The Louisiana Senate allowed a controversial proposal that opponents called a "stealth creationism bill" to die June 23 as the legislative session came to an end. House Bill 580 by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, sought to allow public school boards to use taxpayer money to buy textbooks that haven't been approved by the Department of Education's (DOE) Textbook Adoption Committee, potentially opening the door for teachers to present creationism alongside evolution in public classrooms.
The DOE and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) are charged with making sure all textbooks used in public schools address basic Grade-Level Expectations (GLEs), which are covered on standardized tests.
Baton Rouge Magnet School senior Zack Kopplin was in the Senate last week as lawmakers supporting the bill failed to get the two-thirds vote necessary to pass it. "It's a controversial bill the [Senate] has voted down twice," he says. "The [Senate] did not want to debate this issue. It's a bad law."
The Louisiana House passed the bill June 8 with only five nay votes. "The House is just a tougher chamber for us," Kopplin says. "The Senate is kind of a safety valve. It's a chamber that usually gets rid of bad legislation.
"This is great news for Louisiana. This bill, frankly, takes away the power from BESE and gives it to people without the oversight that's needed."
Earlier in the session, Kopplin mounted a campaign to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which the Legislature passed in 2008. That law allows public school teachers to use "supplemental" materials in classrooms, clearing the way for creationism, or intelligent design, to be introduced in public schools. Forty-three Nobel laureates joined Kopplin's effort to have the Legislature repeal the LSEA during the 2011 session, but those efforts failed.
Although he will attend Rice University in Houston in the fall, Kopplin says he has recruited high school students in Louisiana to take up his banner against the LSEA during the next legislative session. "Luckily I'll have a lot of kids next year, which is the best thing for us. I have found a number of kids who want to be part of this effort," he says.
"I think we have a good shot at getting this repealed next year. (Repealing) the LSEA will always be faster than (getting it overturned through) a lawsuit. This will be a long, tough, expensive one for the state of Louisiana. Eventually someone is going to look at the number of science conventions that are being lost because of this ... and say, 'That is a lot of money.' We're holding out hope the Louisiana Legislature will support our children's future ... (and) give Louisiana students the science they need."
Ian Binns, a member of the Louisiana Coalition For Science (LCFS) and an assistant professor in Louisiana State University's Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Practice, argued against HB 580 when it was considered by the Senate Education Committee June 16. He says he has been very disappointed in how the Senate has handled both HB 580 and the LSEA.
When he was testifying before the Senate Education Committee, he says, vice chair Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, challenged Binns' contention the textbook bill would allow inappropriate materials such as creationism in the classroom. "I think he wasn't remembering correctly, but since they allowed the repeal effort of the Louisiana Science Education Act to stop, they haven't stopped inappropriate materials into the classroom. Because of the LSEA, we have allowed that to happen," Binns says.
"We really shouldn't be wasting our money and our time on legislation like this. They want to improve education; this is not the way to do it. If people truly understood that science is not out to get religion and that science cannot be supernatural, they would not allow this. A lot of these arguments are attempts to redefine science." — Kandace Power Graves