A slightly amended version of a bill that would require Utah’s youth to pass a basic civics test in order to graduate from high school was unanimously passed out of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday afternoon.
SB 60, sponsored by Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper), would also apply to those enrolled in an adult education program. Public school students would be required to get a minimum of 60 out of 100 questions correct in order to pass.
Utah isn’t the first state where this idea is being proposed. Similar legislation is pending in several other states. Earlier this month, Arizona became the first attempt to pass such a requirement. The North Dakota Legislature passed a bill mandating the exam Tuesday which is expected to be signed by Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple later this week. The Arizona-based Civics Education Initiative is leading the charge across the country, and hopes to have the requirement in all 50 states by 2017.
Stephenson believes that most people simply don’t know enough about the basic functions of government, and the situation has reached a boiling point. “We are living in a nation where we believe so strongly in our right and obligation to vote, yet what we find is that most citizens cannot name the three branches of government, they cannot name the chief justice of the Supreme Court, nor can they explain the functions of the Supreme Court. We are in crisis, I believe.”
Jonathan Johnson, chairman of the Promote Liberty PAC and co-chair of the Utah Civics Education Initiative, agrees with Stephenson. He pointed to a Pew Research poll that found that only 1 in 3 Americans can name the three branches of government. “We think this test is a beginning to solving that [problem].”
Johnson first made a name for himself in the realm of Utah education in 2007 during the school voucher debate, where he was a vocal advocate for public funding of vouchers designed to move children out of public schools and into private institutions.
Sen. Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) questioned the need for requiring yet another test. “This is not intended to be a burden for any classroom teacher. This is not intended to be a burden for any class, whether it’s a U.S. History class or whatever,” said Stephenson. He believes that students should, at a minimum, learn these basic facts. “If we expect it of our naturalized citizens who come here hoping to become citizens, I think it’s the least we could do to expect it from every person who graduates from a Utah high school.”
Before being passed out of committee, the bill was slightly altered to change the words “high school” to “public school.” Meaning that a student can take the test at any point in their educational career, not just high school students.
SB 60 now moves to the Senate for a second reading.