The Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee met Wednesday morning to discuss three bills.
The first item up for discussion was a bill from Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), SB61, which provides all professional educators’ organizations equal access to employees of the public school district.
The bill garnered a favorable report quickly, with the only opposition coming from Sen. Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery), a former educator.
The committee quickly moved on to SB89, a bill brought forth by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) to mandate a civics test as part of the state’s graduation requirements. The test is modeled after the national test given to immigrants looking to become citizens of the United States.
Orr added an amendment to the bill, which was approved, to make the test only 50 questions, as opposed to the 100 on the national test.
Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery), who serves as chair of the committee, confirmed that the test would be required for all public school students but would not be mandated to private school students. Private schools could decide whether or not to require students to take the test.
Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) was the first to voice opposition to the bill.
“I’m concerned about this bill for several reasons,” Sanders said. “There’s a reason to give this test to naturalized citizens, there is no need to give this test to people who are already citizens.”
Sanders also noted concern over an additional mandate being levied on schools and teachers, the abundance of which is already making teaching a “burden” rather than a “joyful vocation,” as well the risk of lowering Alabama’s graduation rate because of an additional requirement for graduation.
Ross also chimed in with opposition, noting his disdain for an additional mandate on students and adding that he would like to see a requirement to teach the ins and outs of voting, as well as a requirement that all high school students register to vote.
“This is going to be a simple test,” Orr replied. “It’s fundamental that our students understand and realize the history of our country.”
Ross again voiced concern over the fear that an additional exam would force educators to “teach the test,” as well as concerns that the new civics test would not include black history.
Orr replied that the test would comply with current curriculum standards and individual school districts would be able to customize the test to their standards.
Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) was last to voice opposition to the bill, noting that there should be a requirement that all Alabama legislators pass the test before students are forced to take it, a feat she believes would not be readily accomplished.
A vote was called for and the bill received a favorable report by a six to three margin.
The most exciting element up for discussion Wednesday, SB60, was thwarted due to the absence of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rusty Glover (R-Mobile). The bill would eliminate Common Core curriculum standards in the state and revert back to the curriculum used before the institution of the new standards.
Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) added an amendment to the bill, which he had discussed with Glover previously, that would allow individual school districts to choose whether or not to abolish Common Core.
The amendment was adopted and Marsh noted that he has always “been in support of the rigorous standards of our schools.” No vote was taken and the bill will be carried over to a later education committee hearing.