Kentucky's "controversial issues" bill dies

Sunset over downtown Louisville, KY.

Sunset over downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by Miles Manwaring on Unsplash.

Kentucky's Senate Bill 102 (PDF), which might, if enacted, have engendered adverse consequences for science education in the Bluegrass State, died in committee when the legislature adjourned sine die on March 30, 2023.

Section 5 of the bill defined "controversial subject matter" as "an issue that is a point made in the electoral platform of a political party as defined in and is contested by the electoral platform of another political party at the local, state, or federal level." As Ars Technica (January 29, 2019) observed with regard to similar definitions offered in similar legislation, "a large number of state party platforms specifically mention evolution and climate change" — often disagreeing on the status of these scientific principles.

Declaring that "[t]he common school environment is not an appropriate place to engage in teacher-led or teacher-promoted social or political advocacy with respect to controversial subject matter," the bill would have prohibited teachers from "advocat[ing] in a partisan manner for a specific side" and protect teachers and students from compulsion to "advocate for or against anything in opposition to his or her sincerely held beliefs and convictions, including ... [a]ny position on controversial subject matter."

However, the bill also provided that section 5 shall not "prevent or limit ... [t]he requirement to address in an impartial and factual way topics that are permissible under statute and approved by standard school district or public charter school policies, and which satisfy all administrative regulations, including but not limited to those established in the standards for the course being taught." Evolution and climate change are included in the Next Generation Science Standards, which Kentucky adopted as its state science standards in 2013.

Sponsored by Lindsey Tichenor (R-District 6) and seven of her colleagues, the bill was introduced on February 8, 2023, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Education, which did not hold a hearing on it before the legislature adjourned.

Glenn Branch
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Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.