The Republican-controlled House would let high school students skip out on foreign language classes while requiring stricter civics class requirements under measures approved Tuesday.
One bill softens a foreign language requirement to graduate from high school, allowing students to take computer coding classes instead. Another bill passed by the House Tuesday would require students to take a civics exam based on the naturalization test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to graduate from high school. Both bills now head to the Senate.
Students could complete at least three credits in computer science or coding, visual or performing arts, a technical career training program approved by the Michigan Department of Education, or some combination of the three. They would still be able to take language classes if they want.
Rep. Lisa Lyons, who sponsored the foreign language bill, said it will offer more flexibility for students in choosing their classes.
Supporters of the civics requirement say too few U.S. citizens know basic facts about the U.S. government and its history.
Detractors say the legislation would impose another mandate on local schools and that it conflicts with local control and flexibility over course requirements. They also say the test wouldn't necessarily promote an understanding of American history because it would be derived from an exam that requires rote memorization rather than critical comprehension of history or context.
High schools currently require students to take a one-semester civics course that includes lessons about federal, state and local government and that stress citizen rights. The House-approved bill would require those students to pass an exam based on the one that immigrants have to pass to gain U.S. citizenship.
"This bill is necessary because we have a civics crisis in our education system," said Republican bill sponsor state Rep. Peter Lucido. "We expect that they should know that ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Why should the requirement be higher for immigrants than our own natural citizens?"
A bill analysis says at least nine states have passed legislation that requires students to pass a citizenship test based on the naturalization test.
Organizations representing high school principals, school boards and school administrators testified during committee meetings in opposition to the legislation.