Lawmakers took the rare step Thursday of overriding the Education Committee’s decision to hold the bill. The 27-13 vote gives the measure a chance to pass in the session’s final days.
Across the country, 15 other states have enacted similar legislation, according to a report from Civics Education Initiative.
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft said she introduced the measure to promote patriotism and ensure that students know about American history and government.
The bill would require schools to give students the 100-question naturalization test that immigrants must pass to gain citizenship. The test would not be required for graduation, but schools would report scores to the state. Elm Creek High School in Elm Creek already has incorporated the test into the curriculum, she said.
It also would update a seldom-used statute that calls for school boards to have an Americanism Committee that meets regularly to analyze and re-evaluate methods of teaching social studies courses.
Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings pointed to late-night TV shows that make fun of Americans who can’t answer basic questions about government. He said the country’s lack of knowledge is embarrassing.
“There’s nothing funny about graduated students or adults not having a fundamental understanding or knowledge about our government and how it’s been created and how it’s supposed to function,” he said.
Brasch said her priority bill was unfairly held back by the Education Committee and has significant support in the full Legislature. Twenty-four senators signed onto Brasch’s measure.
Unlike most Republican-dominated committees in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, the Education Committee is composed of four Democrats, three Republicans and one Libertarian.
Opponents of the measure said it will shift the focus from engaged learning to test-taking. Others pointed out that it would give schools a mandate without funding.
Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue called the bill an “overreach of government” and said students today are engaging in civics more than ever with the increase of protests and activism.
“I really have great concern when I hear people start shouting about Americanism and talking about how we need to teach our children about free speech and the rights of the first amendment,” she said. “What do you think they’re doing? They’re getting involved and they’re angry with us.”