Wisconsin legislation that threatens science education advances

WIsconsin State Capitol.

A bill purporting to give parents rights over the education of their children attending public schools passed the Wisconsin Assembly on a 62-35 vote on January 18, 2024, according to Wisconsin Public Radio (January 18, 2024). Science education may suffer if the bill is passed.

Wisconsin's Assembly Bill 510 would, if enacted, provide that parents have "[t]he right to opt out of a class or instructional materials at the child's school or reasons based on either religion or personal conviction" and "[t]he right to timely notice by the child's school, through a process consistent with school policy, of when a controversial subject will be taught or discussed in the child's classroom," where "controversial subject" is defined as "a subject of substantial public debate, disagreement or disapproval."

Although no scientific topics are explicitly mentioned in the bill, there are frequently requests or demands for students to be excused from evolution instruction, as NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch described in Evolution: Education and Outreach in 2008. And both evolution and climate change are arguably subjects of "substantial public debate, disagreement or disapproval," even though there is clearly a scientific consensus on both (see, e.g., the Pew Research Center's description of a 2014 survey of members of the AAAS).

There is a counterpart bill in the Wisconsin Senate, Senate Bill 489. Identifying himself as "a former science teacher, principal, and state superintendent," Governor Tony Evers vetoed (PDF) a bill with similar provisions, Assembly Bill 963 of 2021, in the previous legislative session.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.