Several States Pursue Citizenship Test as Graduation Requirement

How many American citizens would be able to pass the same exam that must be passed by immigrants applying for US citizenship? Public surveys say not many, according to Reid Wilson of The Washington Post.

Because of that, the Civics Education Initiative is introducing legislation in Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah, which will require students to take a test at any time during their high school years, and to pass it before they receive their diplomas or general equivalency degree. The goal is to implement these requirements in every state by Sept. 17, 2017, the 230th birthday of the Constitution.

In Arizona, State Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) is working with other state legislators to craft legislation for the requirement.

"Every single student in Arizona and across the United States of America should have basic knowledge and understanding of American government. Civics is just common sense. So, this Civics Education Initiative … is a common-sense approach at achieving that goal," Montenegro said at a press conference with supporters of the proposal,including Rep. John Allen (R-Scottsdale), and Jay Lawrence, representative-elect for District 23.

President and CEO of the Joe Foss Institute Lucian Spataro cited a Pew Research Center study that found that only about one-third of American citizens could name the three branches of the government. Other studies revealed that less than a quarter of Arizona high school students could pass the US Citizenship Civics Test, says Jackee Coe, writing for The Republic. Spataro says that there has been a shift of emphasis on the STEM studies and away from civics, which he finds "very troubling". Montenegro added:

"If we as a people don't know where our fundamental rights come from, where that authority comes from, it's easier to be led astray, led away, misled," he said. "What we want is to help people engage in society."

South Dakota feels the same way, writes David Montgomery of the Argus Leader. A national group which includes former New York Mayor Rudy Guuliani, former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Bernstein are backing the civics initiative across the country. The South Dakota Civics Education Initiative backers include former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, former Sioux Falls Mayor Dave Munson, and former Citibank leader Ron Williamson.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services say that 92% of immigrants pass the test with 60% or higher on their first try. Only 2.8% of Oklahoma high school seniors passed the test, and 3.5% of Arizona seniors passed.

Whitney Evans of the Deseret News writes that Justice O'Connor made a video backing the initiative, in which she said:

"I would love to see young people, boys and girls, become more engaged in our system of government and better comprehend the importance of ‘we the people.'"

KOLR-TV reports that bipartisan backers of the Missouri Civics Education Initiative say they can remember a time when Civics was a course taught in high school. They want every Missouri school students to pass the test before they can graduate. Former Governor Bob Holden, one of the co-chairmen of the effort, says that understanding the government and history of our country is "fundamental to the well-being" of the country and its states.

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