***Note: this bill has been substituted, this analysis may no longer be valid***
A stronger knowledge of our government and civil society work could go a long way towards helping Utah’s abysmal voter participation numbers and lack of trust in government. As citizens learn more about their government, they are more likely to feel empowered and participate in the functioning of our Democracy.
But such a knowledge base should stem from solid educational coursework in our schools, and not just another test as is being proposed in SB 60 – American Civics Education Initiative from Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper).
Stephenson’s legislation would require students to pass a citizenship skills test in order to graduate from high school.
To be fair, the standards that Stephenson is proposing are low. Students would only have to correctly answer 60 out of 100 questions, and a student would be allowed to take the test as many times as necessary to pass, however Stephenson’s proposal misses the mark.
However, his proposal ignores the fact that programs such as art, science, and, yes, civics, have been systematically cut many times over the last two decades thanks to a lack of funding from (you guessed it)none other than the Utah State Legislature itself.
Lawmakers can debate whether or not Utah should return educational funding levels to pre-1980s levels (when Republicans took over as the dominant party in office), and to some degree, they are correct to do so. But the state has focused its funding energy into the hard sciences and mathematics while eschewing so-called “soft” sciences, such as social sciences. Senator Stephenson himself has not exactly been a promoter of soft sciences, infamously calling the collegiate fields of study “degrees to nowhere.” It seems odd, then, that Stephenson would feel that a basic understanding of civics is important, but that an advanced one is a waste of time.
Civics should be a mandatory part of the high school curriculum and our citizenry would do well to understand the basics of how our Democracy works—but it seems unfair that students, through no fault of their own, are forced to pass a test in an area that the legislature has systematically underfunded over the years.
On a grander scale, this bill will have a disproportionately negative impact on students in low-income households, or in homes where English is a second language, who would be at a marked disadvantage in these civics test. These students already face difficulty in graduating high school due to various social factors (such as both parents having to work full time), and by adding on one more item Stephenson will be excluding more people from a high school degree.
Even if you feel that civics is so important as to be a barrier to receiving a high school degree, it is difficult to defend the fact that the state and the legislature have failed to live up to their end of the deal. Because Stephenson has not included some sort of a funding mechanism to bolster civics education in a way that would ultimately give students the tools they need to succeed, the net result of this bill is an unfunded mandate that punishes students for not knowing what they were not taught. The practical reality is that much more work needs to be done to our school system before such legislation would be fair to students.
To contact Senator Stephenson, click here or call 801-572-1038.
|Impact on Average Utahn||0-1-2-3-4-5|
|Need for Legislation||0-1-2-3-4-5|