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By Barbara Forrest

Friends, we at the Louisiana Coalition for Science would like to be able to say that we are pulling your leg. But we’re not. Louisiana is about to enact into law yet another stealth creationism bill in the form of HB 580 — unless the Senate finally decides to put a stop to this foolishness within the next 13 days when the current legislative session (mercifully) comes to an end. HB 580 passed in the House of Representatives on June 8 with a vote [pdf] of 87 yays, 5 nays, and 13 abstentions. (Thank you, Rep. Walt Leger, Rep. Patricia Haynes-Smith, Rep. Regina Barrow, Rep. Barbara Norton, and Rep. Charmaine Marchand Stiaes.) Louisiana is the embodiment of one of the cardinal rules that every pro-science citizen has to learn:  CREATIONISTS NEVER GIVE UP. To which we now add a corollary:  CREATIONISTS WANT IT ALL. Louisiana creationists were given the proverbial inch in the form of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), and since 2008 they have been industriously grabbing their mile.

Not content with (1) persuading the legislature to pass the creationist Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) — as if that would have taken any effort at all, (2) convincing the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to gut its LSEA implementation policy of prohibitions against using creationist materials in science classes, and (3) then convincing BESE that the review procedure for handling parental complaints about such materials should be stacked in favor of creationists, our creationist friends now want even more.

Despite BESE’s being so accommodating, the backers of HB 580 now want to repay BESE by depriving the board of any real control over the kinds of materials that parish and local school boards can adopt — and let the school boards have a blank check to do it. BESE very admirably resisted the Louisiana Family Forum’s attack on the selection of biology textbooks in 2010. They deserve much credit — and have our sincere thanks — for that. But the creationists who have used the board for their own ends for the last three years now want to tie board members’ hands when it comes to any real purview over textbooks. How’s that for gratitude?

HB 580 has been below the radar because of all the publicity surrounding Sen. Karen Carter Peterson’s unsuccessful SB 70 to repeal the LSEA for which Zack Kopplin and the LA Coalition for Science worked so hard. (Thank you, Sen. Peterson and Zack.) But HB 580 has been quietly moving along and could well end up joining the LSEA in the annals of Louisiana creationist history. We’ll stop talking now and let you read about it for yourself in the press release below (download pdf here). In addition, we provide a separate analysis of the bill here [pdf].

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

TEXTBOOK SELECTION PROCESS ATTACKED BY YET ANOTHER STEALTH CREATIONISM BILL

HB 580 guts oversight of textbook adoption & use of taxpayer funds

Baton Rouge, LA, June 13, 2011

After failing last year to block approval of new biology textbooks by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), supporters of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) are now backing HB 580, a stealth creationism bill that amounts to an end run around BESE. It also expands the reach of the LSEA by removing from current law crucial protections that ensure quality science education materials. The Louisiana Coalition for Science (LCFS) urges the Senate to reject this bill. (See HB 580 at www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/byinst.asp?sessionid=11RS&billid=HB580&doctype=ALL.)

HB 580 contains the following provisions:

(1) Replaces BESE’s power to “prescribe and adopt” textbooks and instructional materials with the power merely to “recommend.” This will gut the board’s power to protect the quality of science textbooks and learning materials. Students could end up using substandard materials that teach pseudoscience.

(2) Allows local school boards to adopt and purchase — at taxpayer expense — textbooks and other materials that are not on the state list, without proper screening by scientists, educators, and curriculum experts, and with no spending limits. This blank check for bogus materials comes during a severe recession when schools face stiff budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

(3) Eliminates the Department of Education’s crucial role in (a) screening and reviewing textbooks and instructional materials to ensure their quality and (b) assuring that textbook adoption committees are composed of properly qualified members, as currently provided for under current law.

An analysis of the bill is available at:

http://lasciencecoalition.org/docs/LCFS_Analysis_HB_580_6.13.11.pdf.

Factors surrounding the introduction of this unnecessary bill raise additional red flags:

  • HB 580 is among “Bills of Interest” that the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) is backing through its lobbying arm, Louisiana Family Forum Action. The LFF wrote and promoted the LSEA in 2008. The LFF also tried aggressively but unsuccessfully to block approval of new biology textbooks in 2010.
  • The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Frank Hoffmann (District 15, West Monroe), promoted a creationist “academic freedom” policy as Asst. Supt. of Education in Ouachita Parish in 2006. In 2008, he introduced a companion bill to the LSEA, which he shepherded through the House of Representatives. As a member of the Textbook/Media/Library Advisory council last year, he voted against the new biology textbooks after the state textbook adoption committee had already approved them.

Having passed in the House, HB 580 has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee. Since the legislature will adjourn in less than two weeks, a committee meeting must be held soon. The next scheduled meeting is Thursday, June 16. The LCFS will send a representative to testify against the bill.

HB 580 is a bad law that threatens the quality of learning materials on which Louisiana students depend at a time when they need the highest quality science education possible. It is also a disaster for school budgets.

The LCFS urges the Senate to vote against the bill. Concerned citizens should call their Senate representatives and ask them to oppose it.

 

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