Wisconsin legislation that threatens science education passes Senate

WIsconsin State Capitol.

A bill purporting to give parents rights over the education of their children attending public schools passed the Wisconsin Senate on a 22-10 vote on February 13, 2024, according to the legislature's website. Science education may suffer if the bill is enacted.

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 for 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, for example, the Pew Research Center's description of a 2014 survey of members of the AAAS).

Education organizations in Wisconsin seem to agree that Assembly Bill 510 is problematic (although not necessarily with regard to science education in particular). Among those registering to express opposition to the bill at a November 8, 2023, hearing in the Assembly Committee on Family Law were representatives of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, and the School Administrators Alliance.

Having passed both houses of the legislature, Assembly Bill 510 is now bound for the desk of Governor Tony Evers, who 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.