Attorney General Derek Schmidt endorsed a proposal Tuesday to create a state law requiring Kansas students pass an examination based on the U.S. citizenship test to graduate from high school.


He said the idea of establishing a test was unassailable because evidence of nation’ shortcomings in basic civics knowledge was pervasive. A survey released last year showed a mere 39% of Americans were able to name the three branches of government, he said. An appalling 22% could identify no more than one branch. Only 53% of those surveyed knew a two-thirds vote of Congress was required to override a presidential veto, he said.


"The data-based criticism of civic learning is well known and consistent," Schmidt said. "There is no cure-all to resolve this gap between the lack of civic knowledge and the nation’s vital need for it."


The Republican attorney general was drawn to the House Education Committee hearing on House Bill 2573, which would impose the exam requirement on students enrolling in ninth grade after July 1, 2020. The civics test would be "substantially similar" to the U.S. naturalization exam. Students would be able to take the civics examination as many times as necessary to obtain a passing score.


Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said he sponsored the bill, in part, to inspire young people to participate in elections. He said only 55% of potential voters 18 to 29 years of age cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election.


"We need to understand our history, the structure our country is built on and what part we each play in keeping democracy strong," Huebert said.


However, the Kansas-National Education Association and the Kansas Association of School Boards expressed opposition to the bill.


KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti questioned why the House chairman was singling out young people with a high-stakes test based on an assumption students didn’t know much about civics, history or government. Perhaps this type of testing mandate ought to be applied to candidates for public office, he said.


"How about first responders?" Desetti said. "It would be nice to know that every police officer demonstrated an understanding of constitutional rights."


KASB advocacy specialist Leah Fliter said a school district’s curriculum should be the work of local boards of education complying with state accreditation standards. Kansas high school students are required to take three units of history and government to graduate, she said.


"This bill is unnecessary, duplicative and intrudes on the State Board of Education’s constitutional authority over public schools," Fliter said.