Jim Bolin
 Sen. Jim Bolin (R-Canton), center, introduced Senate Bill 52, to increase the number of credits in civics needed to graduate from high school 

The Senate Education Committee, on Jan. 22, passed on to the Senate floor a bill that would increase the number of credits in civics that public high school students would need to take in order to graduate.

Senate Bill 52 would require another half unit of civics for high school graduation. It says; “The Board of Education shall provide that the required half unit of civics education takes effect on July 1, 2022, and be in addition to the half unit of United States government required for high school graduation in effect on June 30, 2019 … a student may fulfill the requirement … by taking a full unit of United States government.”

The opponents to the bill said they support civics, but not the mandated increase of civics credits. Representing the School Administrators of S.D., Rob Monson said “If workforce is a priority, should all students be required to take a welding class?”

Representing the Associated School Boards of S.D., Wade Pogany said the bill is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Graduation requirements, to be changed again in June of this year, already meet the requirements of the state. South Dakota content standards have civics being taught from kindergarten through every single grade. “A half credit does not seem like much but has a huge ripple effect,” Pogany said. If another half credit of civics is required, the kids’ can’t take something else. “Every teacher wants more time for their subject.”

Representing the Large School Group, lobbyist Dianna Miller asked for balance. “We want to offer students electives also, based on the new graduation requirements. You have to trust your local experts.”

Ben Jones, the new Interim Secretary of the Department of Education, said civics has taken a back seat to other school subjects, becoming “a quiet crisis.” Jones related that one study showed only about a third of U.S. citizens can pass the Immigration and Naturalization exam.

Committee member Troy Heinert (D-Mission) said, “It’s easy to say we need more education, but this should not come from us. The legislature does not do this, nor should we. I am concerned that knowledge of government should determine citizenship - U.S. government, state government? Currently the requirements are meeting our standards in S.D.

Committee chair Blake Curd (R-Sioux Falls) said that he may not vote for the bill on the Senate floor, but was inclined to support it on the committee level.

At a committee vote of 4-2, SB 52 moved on to be discussed by the full Senate.

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