Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Friday, January 16, 2015

It's unfunded mandate season at the Arizona Capitol!

Yesterday, the Arizona Legislature passed, and Scrooge McDucey signed, the American Civics Act, HB2064 over the misguided protestation of Democratic members in both chambers.

The new law mandates for public schools to:
Beginning in the 2016‑2017 school year, the [High School graduation] competency requirements for social studies shall include a requirement that, in order to graduate from high school or obtain a high school equivalency diploma, a pupil must correctly answer at least sixty of the one hundred questions listed on a test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States citizenship and immigration services. A district school or charter school shall document on the pupil's transcript that the pupil has passed a test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States citizenship and immigration services as required by this section.
And to test each student for the newly required competency thus:
The school district governing board or charter school governing body may determine the method and manner in which to administer a test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States citizenship and immigration services. A pupil who does not obtain a passing score on the test that is identical to the civics portion of the naturalization test may retake the test until the pupil obtains a passing score.
Chatter from current and former (Democratic) lawmakers and their friends has included:

  • But it's an unfunded mandate (true)
  • Isn't it ironic that the Tea Party backed GOP lawmakers, most of whom complain vociferously about Common Core because they don't want the federal government interfering with what we do in this state, passed a bill to require students to pass a federal government administered test? (It is)
  • It won't do any good because it's just forced rote memorization. Students will only forget it before long. (Not a good reason to oppose the bill. Great reason to negotiate a better bill)
  • It's an odd way to begin a session in which the legislature is expected to slash 1/8th of the state budget this session. (Sure it is, but what good did complaining do?)
  • There's nothing in the material students will be required to learn about Arizona government. (It's STILL a start in a good direction.)
One wise Arizona Democrat commented that she graduated from HS in 1954 and was required to pass a civics test; she also mentioned Sandra Day O'Connor's civics initiative; and (rightfully) said this bill might be the only sane piece of legislation Republicans have passed in our state in a long time. She later suggested that Democrats now run legislation to fund the mandate.

Why opposition was an awkward miscalculation, at best:
  • Opposing a bill to require HS grads to know something about government just plain looks dumb.
  • Because the Cure for Apathy is Empowerment, the fact that this mandate is, thus far, unfunded is not nearly as relevant as it is for all-day Kindergarten. 
  • Democrats in Arizona statewide races and in CD-2 (Barber) suffered a diminution of political power because of low voter turnout last November. Low voter turnout essentially equals apathy. If people aren't voting because they believe it doesn't matter, that's because they don't understand government. The CURE for that apathy is to EMPOWER all children by requiring the taxpayer funded schools to teach them about government. Knowledge is power.
  • Therefore, requiring HS grads to have some knowledge EMPOWERS them... begins to anyway.
The House vote was 42 Aye, 17 Nay, 1 Not Voting. All 17 Nay votes were by Democrats. Several Democrats voted Aye.  

The Senate vote was 19 Aye, 10 Nay, 1 Not voting. All Republicans voted Aye; all 10 Nay votes were cast by Democrats. 

I'm disappointed that all three of my district's lawmakers voted Nay. It's not, however, the end of the world.

The caucus leaders have a great opportunity to figure out how this happened and avoid a repeat.

This was a pick your battles wisely situation. While Arizona's legislative Democrats did not choose wisely this time, I'm ready to celebrate this misstep as a wonderful opportunity. Of course, opposing the bill was still a misstep mainly because they have absolutely ZERO moral high ground on which to justify a Nay vote. But they can use this as a springboard for effective team building.

The only people who don't make mistakes are people who do nothing. I'm glad they did something. I hope each caucus determines to make itself a Learning Organization and takes important lessons and insight from this episode. 

I also hope they take Diane Von Blume's advice and now run a bill to fund the civics mandate. And I hope wise HS social studies teachers turn all Arizona high school students on to the interactive learning on iCivics.

Democrats in the Arizona Legislature CAN regain the moral high ground on this issue.


Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped out. Le Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century.


  1. It was a gimmick vote. Memorizing facts doesn't make one a better citizen.

  2. By standing up for public schools and the state standards and responding with factual information, including what those courses and assessments look like for students in high school.
    The people who need to be tested are the voters of Arizona. Y sabes qué? Let those legislators take the citizenship test. I want to know how much they know.