BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota first lady Betsy Dalrymple, educators, military veterans and lawmakers urged a legislative committee Wednesday to pass bipartisan legislation that would require high school students to take the same test that immigrants must pass to become a U.S. citizen.
"This proposal will give our North Dakota high school students an added incentive to strengthen their knowledge or our great country and our rights and duties as citizen," Dalrymple told the House Education Committee, which voted unanimously to forward the bill to the full House with a "do-pass" recommendation. No one spoke in opposition to the measure.
The legislation, unveiled in December ahead of the session, would require students — at any time during their high school career — to correctly answer 60 percent of a 100-question civics test to graduate starting with the 2016-17 school year. A passing grade would rise to 70 percent in following years, under an amendment offered Wednesday by Bismarck GOP Rep. Mike Nathe, the measure's primary sponsor.
Fargo Rep. Al Carlson, the Republican state House majority leader and former history teacher, spoke in favor of the measure but said 60 percent typically is a failing grade on most tests.
Immigrants applying to become citizens must correctly answer six of 10 questions that are chosen at random from the same exam, which is given verbally.
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The measure exempts home-schooled students, unless diplomas are sought from their home school district. Special education students also are exempt, though retired teacher and Assistant Senate Minority leader Joan Heckman, D-New Rockford, believed the majority of those students will take — and pass — the exam.
The measure is backed by the Arizona-based nonprofit Joe Foss Institute. The group has said similar efforts also are underway in South Dakota, Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah.
Foss is a former South Dakota governor and won the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II. He died in 2003.
"The need for civics in our education system is paramount," said David Johnson, a spokesman for the North Dakota American Legion. "This is what we put our lives on the line for."
North Dakota National Guard commander Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk said it's the responsibility of each citizen to "know how our country was born and how it evolved to what it is today."
The graduation requirement "is no more than what we require of people who ask to the United States citizens," he said.
The proposal wouldn't impose extra costs for schools because the questions are available on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website, and individual schools would decide how to implement the test, North Dakota School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said.
"What this bill will do is let our students know that we as a state understand that civics knowledge is just as important as math, English or science." Baesler said.
The state's first lady gave members of the House Education Committee copies of the test, which includes questions ranging from the number of voting members in the U.S. House (answer: 435) to naming the ocean bordering the nation's West Coast (the Pacific).
Dalrymple pointed out question No. 43 on the exam to the committee.
"That's my favorite," she said. "Who is the governor of your state now?"