News & Updates 3/17/19

We’re monitoring several bills in our state legislature that could negatively impact science education. The good news is that so far there has been very little movement. One has been scheduled for a committee hearing and others have gotten some press. But the session is still quite young and we can’t relax until it’s all over May 3. You first opportunity for action is the Alternative High School Diploma Bill in the senate. We need you to contact committee members to warn them about the negative consequences of the bill. Read further down in this post for more information and the committee members’ contact information.

Here are some bills we are tracking that have updates (but this is not everything we are tracking):

  • Alternative High School Diploma Bills (that allow students to graduate having taken only one science course)
  • Instructional Materials Bills (that contain references to “controversial issues”)
  • Academic Standards Bill (that contain references to “controversial theories”)

Alternative High School Diploma Bills: SB 770 & HB 661

These bills would allow students to graduate high school with only 18 credits instead of 24 and would allow students to substitute science and math courses with courses that lead to some type of industry certification. The main problem with these bills is that a student could graduate high school after having only taken one science course!

I wrote a blog post about it here: Should Florida students be allowed to graduate with only one science course?

I wrote an op-ed about the bills that was published in the Tallahassee Democrat. And a longer version was published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. (Unfortunately, I messed up and wrote SB707 instead of SB 770 and neither paper caught the error.)

Science and math are just too darn hard. We can’t expect everyone to know the difference between astronomy and astrology or be able to read a scatterplot graph.

That’s a message now coming from Tallahassee. Apparently, science and math are just too “advanced” for our poor high school students. So, bills filed in Florida’s House and Senate aim to give students a way to avoid those difficult subjects.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal also wrote an editorial opposed to the bill: Students deserve high standards.

Hutson’s legislation throws a troubling wrinkle into the mix, however. He proposes scaling down higher-level math, science and writing class requirements for students enrolled in a vocational program. Those students could also graduate high school in three years — with 18 credits, and as little as one class in science and two in math.

TAKE ACTION: The senate bill is now scheduled for a hearing in the education committee, Tuesday 03/19/19 at 4 p.m. Please call or write the members of the committee to let them know that this bill is a bad idea. Send them links to the op-eds linked above and put your own personal take on the issue. They need to hear from you!

Chair: Senator Manny Diaz, Jr. (R)
District office: 305-364-3073
Capitol office: 850-487-5036
Twitter: @SenMannyDiazJr

Vice Chair: Senator Bill Montford (D)
District & Capitol office: 850-487-5003
Twitter: @BillMontford (but account isn’t active)

Senator Dennis Baxley (R)
District office: 352-750-3133
Capitol office: 850-487-5012
Twitter: @dennisbaxley

Senator Lori Berman (D)
District office: 561-292-6014
Capitol office: 850-487-5031
Twitter: @loriberman

Senator Janet Cruz (D)
District office: 813-348-1017
Capitol office: 850-487-5018
Twitter: @SenJanetCruz

Senator Keith Perry (R)
District office: 352-264-4040
Capitol office: 850-487-5008
Twitter: @KeithPerryFL

Senator David Simmons (R)
District office: 407-262-7578
Capitol office: 850-487-5009
Twitter: @DSimmonsFL

Senator Kelli Stargel (R)
District office: 863-668-3028
Capitol office: 850-487-5022
Twitter: @kellistargel

Instructional Materials Bills SB 1454 & HB 855

These bills are jam-packed with bad news, with massive changes suggested to the way instructional materials (textbooks and other materials used in instruction) are selected and challenged. There’s a lot to be concerned about in these bills, including: “Instructional materials recommended by each reviewer shall be accurate and factual; provide, objective, balanced, and noninflammatory viewpoints on controversial issues.” The controversial issues targeted are, of course, evolution and global warming in science courses. To learn about all of the other problems with these bills and a little bit about the lawmaker behind one, read my blog post New Instructional Materials bill includes “controversial issues” requirement.

Both bills have been assigned to three committees each, which is a good sign. The more committees the bills have to pass through, the better the chances of them being stopped. Neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing yet.

The Tampa Bay Times published a story today (3/17/19) about the bills: Will Florida legislators make it easier to ban books in schools? We’ll soon find out.

Members of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance have been appalled with what they’ve seen in the books being handed to students in the public schools.

“Pornographic” scenes in novels. Religious “indoctrination” boosting Islam over others in the social studies books. “Unbalanced propaganda” promoting climate change in science texts.

The bills pose a “clear and present danger” to public education, said Brandon Haught, a leader with Florida Citizens for Science and a Volusia County classroom teacher.

Florida Citizens Alliance members “want to bully the school boards into complying with them,” Haught said.

The bills have been assigned to several committees, and have not been scheduled for hearings. But that seemingly long march to the chamber floors isn’t leading the opponents to ease up.

“You might figure there’s no way,” Haught said. “But we can’t dismiss this.”

Academic Standards Bill SB 330 (no HB)

This bill would impact the standards for all academic subjects, especially science. It proposes allowing school districts to adopt their own sets of educational standards if they are “equal to or more rigorous” than the state’s educational standards. The bill specifically targets science standards with the following directive: “Controversial theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” This, of course, is aimed directly at evolution and global warming. To read more about the background of this bill, see our issues page “Controversial Theories/Rigorous Standards” Bills 2019.

The bill has been assigned to four committees and has not been scheduled for a hearing yet. There is no companion bill in the house.

One columnist in the Orlando Sentinel views this bill favorably: Climate is right to teach skepticism in Florida schools.

But from what I can tell, the most controversial thing about climate change is people saying it’s not controversial.

So I wish Baxley’s bill would drop the evolution fight and solely address climate. I’d like my kids to hear both sides of the story.

Especially when one side is being told by Al Gore.

But an Associate Press article takes a more critical view: School lessons targeted by climate change doubters.

Florida state Sen. Dennis Baxley is pressing legislation that would allow schools to teach alternatives to controversial theories.

“There is really no established science on most things, you’ll find,” the GOP legislator said.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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