See Who Is Behind Mandatory Civics Tests to Graduate from High School

May 21, 2015

Wisconsin high school students would be required to pass a civics test in order to receive a diploma under a plan added to the proposed 2015-17 state budget by Republican legislators. The proposal is being pushed by an out-of-state special interest group whose leader was an early supporter of voucher and charter schools.

The budget plan is identical to a proposal, Assembly Bill 194, introduced earlier this month by Rep. James Edming, of Glen Flora, and Sen. Van Wanggaard, of Racine. The test, which is the same one required for people who seek U.S. citizenship, would require students to answer at least 60 of 100 questions correctly to obtain a diploma. The requirement would start in the 2016-17 school year if it is approved by the full legislature, which considers the proposed budget in June, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

AB194 is opposed by a dozen Wisconsin public school and school voucher groups that represent administrators and teachers, Disability Rights Wisconsin, the Ho-Chunk Nation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Some of the opponents said at a hearing on the Assembly bill that they opposed it because a student’s high school graduation should not be tied to a single subject or test.

The measure has the support of a single special interest group, an Arizona-based outfit called the Civics Proficiency Institute, which is affiliated with the Joe Foss Institute. Both groups have pushed mandatory civics tests in order to graduate from high school throughout the country “to ensure all students are taught basic civics about how our government works, and who we are as a nation…things every student must learn to be ready for active, engaged citizenship.”

The Joe Foss Institute is led by Frank Riggs, a former Republican congressman from California who supported voucher and charter school initiatives and who also heads a Maryland-based nonprofit corporation called the Charter Schools Development Corp., which helps finance and build public charter schools.

Edming, who was elected to the Assembly in 2014, applauded the committee for putting his proposal in the state budget, a move which makes it easier for the plan to become law than as a stand-alone bill because the budget is the only bill that the legislature must approve.

Wanggaard’s top contributors between January 2013 and Oct. 20, 2014, were Joseph Madrigrano, a Kenosha attorney, and his wife, Kathy, $4,000; Kathryn Heide, a retiree from Kenosha, $2,500; and retirees Eric and Jane Schumann, of Racine, $2,050.

Edming’s top contributors between January 2013 and Oct. 20, 2014, were school voucher proponents Richard and Betsy DeVos, of Grand Rapids, Mich., $1,000; retirees Gary and Terri Schildt, of East Troy, $1,000; and Pete Olson, of Black River Falls, owner of the Cozy Corner Tavern, $609.