Senate passes civics test requirement

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The Kansas Senate on Wednesday night passed a bill requiring Kansas students to pass an American civics test to graduate from high school.

However, the Senate added a financial literacy requirement to the bill, which will need to be signed off on by the House.

“These, if added to a curriculum, will far better serve the students who are matriculating through our high schools,” said Democatic state Sen. David Haley, who introduced the amendment.

“It will make them better prepared to be not only good and responsible citizens in Kansas but world citizens as well,” Haley said.

The bill, which has faced a difficult time this session, passed the Senate on a 24-15 vote facing questions about whether it was necessary and a “power grab.”

Earlier this month, the House voted 69-54 to pass the bill despite concerns that the Legislature was encroaching on the state Board of Education’s constitutional turf.

The bill, backed by Republican state Rep. Steve Huebert, requires students enrolled in an accredited public, private or parochial high school to pass a civics test as part of the required course of instruction for graduation.

The tests would be made up of 60 questions selected from the naturalization test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, questions that Huebert conceded weren’t very difficult.

“The basic questions in…the naturalization test go a long way to providing what you need, what foundations our Kansas kids need to fulfill the job of a citizen,” said Republican state Sen. Kellie Warren of Overland Park.

“I don’t want that outsourced to Google or a Wikipedia search,” he said.

Democratic state Sen. Petty Pettey took the lead in opposing the bill, peppering the Senate’s lead sponsor of the bill – Republican Alicia Straub – with questions throughout the debate.

Pettey noted that Kansas already requires students to study governnment, history and social sciences. She said there was no need for the bill.

“A troubling pattern has emerged in this chamber this sesson, with legislators concentrated on passing sweeping and restrictive laws to address problems that they have not shown actually exist in our state,” the Kansas City lawmaker said.

“Furthermore, these sweeping measures have almost always involved some form of legislative overreach or power grab over authority already given to other officials or bodies elected at the local level,” she said.

Pettey said there is no evidence showing that Kansas students don’t already learn why the country celebrates the Fourth of July or why there are 13 stripes on the flag.

“The Legislature,” she said, “is solving this nonexistent problem by giving itself power to decide curriculum, a power that already rests with our duly elected state Board of Education,” she said.

Republican state Sen. Mike Thompson of Shawnee said the test hardly represented a high bar for students to cross.

“This is not hard,” Thompson said.

“I have grandkids who are home schooled that know this stuff inside and out, and they’re 10 years old.

“There’s no reason we can’t ask high school students to pass a basic test like this so when they do come on to the voter rolls, they’re able to be informed enough to make good decisions.”

As passed out of the Senate, the bill now requires a personal financial literacy course for grades 11 and 12 that would last at least one semester or two quarters.

The bill would require the course to include topics ranging from saving and investing to
credit and debt to financial responsibility and money management.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes opposed Haley’s amendment as well as the underlying civics test bill.

“We are not staying in the correct lane,” Sykes said.

“We are the Legislature,” she said. “This should be decided by our state Board of Education. Again, we are going the wrong direction.”