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McBurney Pushing for Mandatory Civics Education

A Jacksonville Republican is renewing his push to require all Florida students to take civics.

Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, has filed legislation that has failed for the past two years that would require middle school students to take a civics class and be tested on their knowledge. A testing system would be phased in, so that eventually, students would have to pass a civics assessment exam to be promoted to the next grade.

“We have a real crisis in our institutions when more than 40 percent of Floridians can't correctly identify the three branches of American government,” McBurney said. “Or they can't define the concept of checks and balances.”

McBurney's bill was not given a hearing in the House's education budget committee this past spring, but he was able to amend it onto three bills that were passed by the entire House. The amendments did not survive the Senate; however, McBurney says he feels more confident about the bill's chances for the upcoming year than ever before.

“I think to do this is just vitally important,” McBurney said.

The legislation did get some buzz toward the end of the 2009 legislative session, largely because former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke to a joint session of the Legislature promoting civics education. Former U.S. Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham has also been promoting a new book he wrote about civics and touting the benefits of improved civics education.

But it wasn't enough to get McBurney's bill approved by the entire Legislature. In the Senate, a fight ensued over the bill's requirement of an end-of-the-year civics exam and how much it would cost and ultimately affect schools. Given that the bill has gotten a little more attention each year he has proposed it, McBurney said he feels the chances of its passage are getting pretty good.

“Unless children of our state...understand the basics of our democracy, we may not be able to preserve that,” McBurney said.

The bill would ultimately phase in the testing component of the bill. At first, the exam grade would simply be part of the final grade, but eventually would become a requirement to move on to the next grade in 2015.

According to the legislation, in the 2012-2013 school year, students entering sixth grade would be required to take a minimum of one semester of civics education that includes “the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments; the structures and functions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; and the meaning and significance of historic documents, such as the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States.”

The bill is HB 105.

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