DES MOINES — Legislation to require Iowa students to pass a civics exam to get a high school diploma might not make the grade ahead of the Friday “funnel” deadline.
“I’m not ready to kill this,” Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, said after a spirited Senate Education subcommittee hearing Monday afternoon on Senate Study Bill 3119. “It’s frustrating to me that new immigrants can pass a test and our own students can’t.”
However, a House version, House Study Bill 573, was pulled from the Education Committee agenda Monday because of a lack of support among majority Republican members, said chairman Walt Roger, R-Cedar Falls.
Backers of SSB 3119 told senators 1-in-3 people cannot name all three branches of government and 8-in-10 cannot name two rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence. Only 1-in-5 eighth-graders are proficient in civics, supporters of the legislation said.
The Education Committee in one chamber or the other must approve a bill before Friday to meet the Legislature’s self-imposed deadline for non-money bills. They must pass at least one standing committee to remain eligible for consideration this year.
The bills would give students, beginning in seventh grade, the opportunity to pass the same test immigrants must pass to become U.S. citizens, said Sara Allen, a lobbyist for the Civics Proficiency Institute. They would have to score 60 percent on the 100-question test.
Dave Thornburg of the Disabled American Veterans said requiring students to know basic information about government would “instill Americanism and patriotism.” The bill is consistent with veterans groups that want American flags in every classroom and students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at school.
It’s important that student know what “veterans went through so they can go to school,” Thornburg said.
Eric Goranson of the Iowa Association of Christian Schools said his clients support civics education but opposes the bill as a “prescriptive mandate.”
“We hate 'em,” he said about mandates included in bills filed by noneducation groups. He also noted that schools — public and private — are moving away from teaching that’s designed to master tests.
Margaret Buckton, who represents the urban Education Network and Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said the proposal would require a “high-stakes test” that goes beyond anything the state now requires.
“It’s not the ACT,” countered Frank Chido, who said he is concerned generally about a lack of civics knowledge.
“This is about the basic functions of our government,” he said. “We’re not talking about them knowing how to cure cancer.”
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, did not support the bill and promised that if it gets to the Senate floor he will offer an amendment to require legislators to pass the test. House minority Democrats have drafted more than 20 amendments to HSB 573, according to a staff member.