Gov. Kelly vetoes GOP-backed bills on civics tests and gun-safety courses

photo by: John Hanna/Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions during a news conference, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka.

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed two Republican-backed education bills on Thursday, including one that would have required high school students to pass a civics test to graduate and another that would have allowed districts to incorporate gun-safety courses into their curriculums.

The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the bills this month, but not by large enough margins in either chamber for override attempts to succeed, falling 12 votes short in the House and two shy in the Senate on the civics bill and five votes short in the House and nine shy in the Senate on the gun-safety course measure.

It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone who opposed either bill initially might back one or both in an override attempt, or even if attempts would be made. Some Republicans who opposed the bills said they agreed with state Board of Education members who argued that the measures would have infringed upon the board’s constitutional authority to set graduation requirements.

“The Kansas Constitution endows our state Board of Education with the authority to set the curriculum for our public schools,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “We should let the state Board of Education do that job, not the Legislature. This is legislative overreach. I encourage the Legislature to work with the State Board of Education to modify curriculum.”

The civics bill would have required public and private high school students to pass a test or series of tests consisting of 60 randomly selected questions from the U.S. citizenship test. The measure didn’t set a passing grade, leaving that to teachers. Students would have been able to take the test multiple times until they passed.

That bill also would have forced high schools to offer financial literacy courses beginning next year that students would have had to pass in order to graduate starting in the 2024-25 school year.

The legislation drew criticism from Democrats and the state’s largest teacher’s union, the Kansas National Education Association, which pointed out that students already learn about civics in their government classes. The Kansas Association of School Boards, the United School Administrators of Kansas and the Olathe School District told lawmakers that they would rather encourage students to work on civics projects instead of relying on tests.

Republicans supporting the bill argued that a test would require students to learn basic information needed to become engaged citizens. Some also said that passing a civics test should be easy for students who already study the subject in other classes. The bill would have required high schools to submit annual reports tracking how students performed on the test.

Nineteen states require high school students to have taken a civics test in order to graduate, according to the Legislature’s research staff.

The other bill Kelly vetoed would have allowed school districts to offer gun-safety programs and directed the state Board of Education to develop curriculum guidelines, including requiring K-5 courses to be based on the National Rifle Association’s “Eddie Eagle” program. Although the bill’s backers said the NRA program is well-established, some critics said it has proven to be ineffective in preventing accidental shootings among children.


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