Legislation nearing final approval is a “stealth creationism” measure that would undermine science education in public schools, critics said Tuesday.
“There doesn’t appear to be any real need for the bill,” said Barbara Forrest, co-founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science.
Forrest and others contend the bill would damage the quality of science textbooks, and open the way for those who promote the view that life began about 6,000 years ago in a process described in the Book of Genesis — creationism.
But state Rep. Frank Hoffmann, R-West Monroe and sponsor of the bill, disputed the criticism.
Hoffmann said the bill is aimed in part at giving local school districts a bigger say in which textbooks their schools use.
“It basically moves some of the authority from the state level to the local level,” Hoffmann said in an interview Tuesday.
“Most people think that is a good idea,” he added.
The proposal is House Bill 580, which passed the House 87-5 on June 8 and is expected to get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
The session ends on June 23.
Current rules require the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE, to prescribe and adopt textbooks used in elementary and secondary schools.
Local school districts face restrictions on the use of state funds they can use to purchase books not on the state list.
Hoffmann’s bill would lift those book-buying restrictions on local districts, regardless of whether they are on the state-approved list.
Under his plan, BESE would only recommend textbooks.
“This will gut the board’s power to protect the quality of science textbooks and learning materials,” Forrest’s group said in a prepared statement.
“Students could end up using substandard materials that teach pseudoscience,” it says.
Ian Binns, who teaches science education at LSU, said the bill would remove BESE and state Department of Education oversight from the textbook process.
While the change applies to all subjects, injecting creationism into science classes “is our main concern.”
Hoffmann said his bill carries no such aims.
“That is not the point here,” he said.
Erin Bendily, chief of support for the state Department of Education, said even if the bill becomes law, textbooks adopted by local school districts would have to meet state content standards.
“We still want to make sure students are being taught materials aligned with the standards, which they will eventually be tested on,” Bendily said.
The issue involves many of the same players involved in a bid to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.
Backers contend that 2008 law allows freewheeling classroom discussions on evolution and other topics.
Critics contend it is aimed at permitting creationism and other religious issues into science classrooms.
The Senate Education Committee killed the repeal bill on May 26.
Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, said Tuesday his group mostly agrees with Hoffmann’s bill, including its bid to widen the use of electronic textbooks.
The Family Forum says it promotes traditional family values.