Senate Education Committee advances legislation promoting civics education

Three key bills promoting civics education in Tennessee schools were approved by the Senate Education Committee this week before members concluded their business for the 2019 session.  This includes Senate Bill 800 establishing the “Governor’s Civics Seal” to recognize public schools and local education agencies (LEAs) for implementing high quality civic education programs that prepare students for career and civic life.  The bill is part of Governor Bill Lee’s legislative package.

According to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, a majority of Americans in every state, except Vermont, would fail a test based on the questions in the U.S. Citizenship Test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Research indicates only 38 percent of Tennesseans could pass the test, with just 13 percent scoring a grade B or higher.

Under the bill, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education would adopt criteria that a school must meet to earn the Governor’s Civics Seal.  The criteria will build on Tennessee’s academic standards regarding the formation of the state and federal government, utilizing civics lesson plans and Blue Book lesson plans provided by the Tennessee Secretary of State.  It will also include instruction regarding our nation’s democratic principles and practices, significant events, and individuals responsible for the creation of our foundational documents.  In addition, the legislation calls for students to engage in real-world learning activities, including the Secretary of State’s student mock election and civics essay contest.  The Secretary of State will assist in implementing the program.  

The legislation provides that the Governor’s Civic Seal recognition will be identified on the school’s state report card.  School districts in which at least 80 percent of schools received the seal will also receive the Excellence in Civic Education recognition. 

In similar action, Senate Education Committee members also approved Senate Bill 1243 which raises the minimum number of questions asked on the civics exam administered to high school seniors from 25 to 50.  Current law requires a civics exam be administered composed from the 100 questions provided on the test administered to immigrants applying for citizenship.  This legislation requires that at least 29 questions on the test must be related to American government, 16 to American history, and 7 to integrated civics.   Schools in which all graduating seniors receive at least an 85 percent score or higher on the test would receive an additional recognition by the Department of Education as a U.S. Civics All-Star School.

Finally, the committee approved legislation calling for students in Tennessee’s K-12 schools to receive instruction on the 19th Amendment, including Tennessee’s role and the events leading up to ratification.   Tennessee played a pivotal role in ratification, casting the final vote needed to grant women the right to vote on August 18, 1920.   The vote was narrowly won when Republican State Representative Harry Burn changed his vote from “no” to “aye.”  The young 24 year-old Burn was persuaded just prior to the vote after receiving a note from his mother who favored ratification. 

Senate Bill 1248 calls on the Department of Education to collaborate with appropriate groups to develop and promote instruction related to women’s suffrage.  They will also be responsible for distributing instruction materials electronically to Local Boards of Educations (LEAs), as well as provide resources to aid educators via their Internet website. 

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