HARTFORD, CT — A bill that mandates the inclusion of climate change in the science curriculum for public schools passed the House in a 103-43 vote Tuesday.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, was debated for about five hours on the House floor. It passed with bipartisan support, but was perhaps a foreshadowing of the Republican minority’s ability to stretch debate on any bill called in the last week of session. The session ends at midnight June 5.
“A lot of schools make the study of climate change an elective, and I don’t believe it should be an elective, Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, said. “I think it should be mandatory, and I think it should be early so there’s no excuse for kids to grow up ignorant of what’s at stake.”
Palm and other proponents said current law and education standards do not go far enough and the state should require schools to teach climate education at an earlier age.
The legislation would make Connecticut the first state in the nation to require the teaching of climate change in government schools beginning in elementary school.
Connecticut is one of 19 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in cooperation with 26 state education agencies.
Released in 2013, NGSS introduces global climate change as a core topic in Earth and space science classes beginning in middle school, although the specifics of the curriculum and its instruction are left up to individual districts.
In 2015, Connecticut enacted a law reinforcing NGSS which allowed, but did not require, teaching climate change in government schools.
Palm said she was “mystified over the controversy” the bill has created because she said the majority of school systems already teach climate change in their science courses.
Under questioning, however, Palm said she didn’t have the exact number of schools teaching climate change.
Many who opposed the bill said the legislature was overstepping its bounds, noting that just last week the same body approved a bill that mandates that African-American and Latino and Puerto Rican studies be included in public school curriculum. Last week they sought to include this climate change concept as an amendment, but delayed debate until today and used another bill, HB 7083, as a strike-all amendment.
Many Republicans said the House should not be voting on educational mandates and that it was the job of educators and local school boards, rather than Hartford politicians, to dictate educational policy.
“Why would anybody even want to serve on these (local) boards, if decision-making on educational matters were being moved from local to state control,” Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said.