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Urdahl's civics-test bill passes House in omnibus package

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
ST. PAUL – The Minnesota House on Monday approved legislation Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, authored to increase civics education in Minnesota.
Urdahl's measure passed as part of an omnibus K-12/higher education package (H.F. 2749). His legislation requires all students to take a civics exam before high school graduation and answer at least 30 of 50 questions correctly. The exam would be composed of questions selected yearly from the 100 questions the United States citizenship and immigration officers use to question applicants for naturalization.
"I spent decades teaching government in the classroom and there is what I view to be a crisis of civics knowledge in Minnesota," Urdahl said. "The legislation I have authored is designed to increase awareness of who we are as a nation and how we got where we are today."
A provision was added to indicate failure to pass this test cannot prevent a student from graduating.
"The main thing is we can't have high schoolers graduating who can name more Kardashians than U.S. presidents," Urdahl said. "Civics education has been one of the casualties of an increased emphasis on math and science and this bill helps renew some of the focus on how our government functions."
Other K-12 components in the bill full bill re-invest $56 million of K-12 cost savings into programs designed to boost learning outcomes for students, expand broadband to students across the state, reduce Minnesota's teacher shortage and increase diversity in the state's teacher workforce.
Higher education provisions are aimed at helping students save money on higher education costs through reforms that reduce the need for remedial classes, as well as increasing awareness of loan-forgiveness programs. The bill also expands higher education opportunities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Last session, lawmakers passed a fully-funded state budget that saw $525 million in increased funding for K-12 education, and $166 million for Higher Education. The 2015 budget invested historic amounts in early education, increased per-pupil K-12 funding by 2 percent each year, and lowered tuition for thousands of students at MNSCU campuses across the state in 2017.
House Republicans also have proposed tax relief for students with college debt with a first-in-the-nation tax credit for loan payments, as well as a tax credit for families who are saving for their children's higher education costs. Both provisions are under consideration as a part of the tax bill which remains in the hands of a conference committee.