Iowa Bill Would Require High School Students To Pass U.S. Citizenship Test Before Graduating
High school students in Iowa might have to take one more exam before receiving their diplomas — a civic test. It's the same test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to those looking to become U.S. citizens. That's part of a new bill introduced in the Iowa legislature. NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Iowa, about his bill.
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
All right. Here are some civics questions we asked young people at NPR. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Twenty-seven.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Like 30.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Fifty amendments.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Twenty-five amendments.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: In the 20s, in the - maybe more than that.
MCEVERS: What territory did the United States buy from France in 1803?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: The Louisiana Purchase.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The Louisiana Purchase.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: Best guess, I'm going to say Puerto Rico.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The Louisiana Purchase.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: Oh, the Louisiana Purchase.
MCEVERS: And just say you know, the correct answers are 27 amendments and, yes, most of you had the right answer, the Louisiana Territory. Turns out, these are actually two of the 100 questions that appear on the test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to people who want to become U.S. citizens. And now a bill in Iowa would make the same test mandatory for all high school students who are about to graduate. House Study Bill 5-73 (ph) was introduced by Representative Walt Rogers. A similar bill by his colleagues failed to pass the year before. So I started by asking him why he thought it was worth reintroducing.
WALT ROGERS: I think it's just, you know, common sense that, you know, maybe our kids should understand basic civics of the United States. And so we've got a lot of high-stakes testing these days with reading and math and science, which is all good, but I feel like sometimes social studies and those types of things get a back seat.
MCEVERS: Yeah. I mean, we're, of course, in a moment where immigration policy in this country and the path to legal citizenship are things that are being fiercely debated. How does your bill fit into that?
ROGERS: It's pretty simple. There's a hundred questions, and I think we're just modeling that same thing and using that standard to make sure our students here in Iowa have, you know, at least a basic knowledge of what their civics is all about here.
MCEVERS: As you mentioned, this is not the first time that this bill has been introduced. And you said it didn't quite work out. Why not?
ROGERS: Being in education, we always run into the issue of unfunded mandates. In our Republican caucus, that's something that we're very sensitive to. And so I think that was the biggest reason that last year's bill just didn't move forward because people were afraid of, well, here's another unfunded mandate that the government's pushing on us.
MCEVERS: Well, so does the new bill have a mechanism for such tests to be funded?
ROGERS: It does not. The test is already set up, pretty much tells them what they have to do. So there really isn't a whole lot of cost involved.
MCEVERS: So right before you graduate, you just have to sit down and take this test that already exists in another place.
ROGERS: Right. Actually, the way the bill is worded, they could take it any time from 7th grade to graduating from high school. So they've got almost five years to take it, and they can take it multiple times. So I think at that standard it should be fairly easy to pass.
MCEVERS: OK. What's the next step?
ROGERS: We have to run it through a subcommittee and then pass it through full committee and then you bring that to the floor of the House. And if the House will pass it, we'll send it over to our Senate and run through the same process again, and then hopefully our governor will sign.
MCEVERS: Hopefully that process is one of the questions on the list, right?
ROGERS: Yeah, hopefully (laughter).
MCEVERS: How a bill becomes a law. Well, one thing I guess everyone was curious about is do you have kids, and did you make them take the test?
ROGERS: You know what (laughter)? There was an article that the Des Moines Register did this past week, and I was quoted in the article, so I sent that to all three of them and said, hey, there's a test at the end. Why don't you take it? And so they're all going to take it and get back to me how they did.
MCEVERS: Oh, OK.
ROGERS: I have not found out those results yet.
MCEVERS: All right, well, let us know. Thanks.
ROGERS: All right.
MCEVERS: State Representative Walt Rogers of Iowa, thanks so much for your time.
ROGERS: You bet. Thank you, Kelly.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO "SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK - PREAMBLE (AMERICA ROCK)")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Hey, do you know about the USA? Do you know about the government? Can you tell me about the Constitution? Hey, learn about the USA.