Senate bill proposes Utah students pass U.S. citizenship test to graduate

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By Emily Larson

Who was president during the Great Depression and World War II?
Before he was president, Eisenhower was a general. What war was he in?
How many amendments does the Constitution have?
What’s the name of the Chief Justice of the United States?

If you can’t answer these questions, you might not be able to graduate from a Utah high school if a proposed bill becomes law. Two Salt Lake County lawmakers want Utah high school seniors to correctly answer at least 60 of the 100 questions on the test given to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. Without a passing grade, students couldn’t graduate from high school.

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The Utah Capitol under sunny skies on the second day of the 2015 legislative session.

Take the U.S. Citizenship Civics Test

Sen. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, and Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, have filed SB60, which is similar to bills filed in legislatures in Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, Indiana, North Dakota and other states. On Jan. 15, Arizona’s legislature became the first state to pass a bill to require students to take the test. Scottsdale, Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute is promoting the legislation throughout the United States.

In a recent meeting at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, Jonathan Johnson, chair of Overstock.com and Promote Liberty PAC, joined Eliason and Stephenson to talk about the bill.

The trio discussed the background of and need for SB60. Johnson mentioned the decline of voting numbers, particularly involving the 18- to 21-year-old demographic. He said the bill is meant to help high school students understand government and prepare them to become responsible voters.

“We’re hoping to see more people participate in government by knowledge. It’s hard to force people to do something, and when you teach them how it works, they’re much more likely to be involved,” Johnson said.

Stephenson expanded on the idea, expressing alarm at declining voter rates.

“We can’t overstate how critical this ignorance crisis is in our country. It cannot be overstated. We have a citizenry that don’t know the form of government or why we have it,” he said.

Eliason mentioned several common concerns regarding the initiative, such as funding and the comparison of the state-mandated test to Common Core standards. He said the implementation of the bill requires little funding because the test already exists. He also explained that the Legislature won’t decide how to implement the bill but will rather allow educators to decide when and how to administer the exam.

“The Civics Education Initiative is simple in concept. It requires high school students, as a condition for graduation, to pass a test on 100 basic facts of U.S. history and civics, from the United States Citizenship Civics Test — the test all new U.S. citizens must pass,” reads the Civics Education Initiative website. “The Civics Education Initiative is a first step to ensure all students are taught basic civics about how our government works and who we are as a nation … things every student must learn to be ready for active, engaged citizenship.”

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