COLUMBIA, SC – This legislative session, the James B. Edwards Civics Education Initiative was unanimously passed by South Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley. The initiative helps evaluate and measure the effectiveness of current civics and government instruction by requiring all students to take the 100-question U.S. Citizenship Civics Test. While passage of the test is not mandatory for graduation, results of the test will be submitted to the Education Oversight Committee for evaluation of current civics education programs.
Initially spearheaded by a bi-partisan group of business leaders and former elected officials, the legislation was shepherded through the General Assembly by Representative James Smith and Senator Chip Campsen. They were joined by Representatives Bruce Bannister, Gary Simrill, and Beth Bernstein and Senators Glen Reese, Greg Gregory and Brad Hutto. The final version passed without any opposition in either the House or Senate under the direction of Education Committee leaders in both chambers: In the House, Chairman Rita Allison and Representative Tommy Stringer and in the Senate, Chairman John Courson and Senator Wes Hayes. The assistance and support of State Superintendent of Education, Molly Spearman, was also critical during this process.
“I was proud to see both houses and both parties of the General Assembly rally around this effort,” said Representative Smith. “Our high school graduates are also our newest voters, and we must ensure they know the basic facts about our government if we expect them to make informed decisions or be engaged in the process. The fact that this bill passed without a single vote against it in either chamber speaks volumes.”
As former Sec. of Education Dick Riley pointed out, “This is not a partisan issue. It is an American issue.” Riley served as state co-chairman of this effort and was joined by former governors Hodges and Beasley as well as Columbia restaurateur Bill Dukes, education activist Karen Iacovelli, Charleston developer Buck Limehouse, South Carolina homebuilder Steven Mungo, and the late Governor James B. Edwards, who passed away during this effort and for whom the legislation was then named.
South Carolina joins Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Tennessee and Louisiana in passing civics education legislation this year. The “Civics Education Initiative” was launched nationally in 2014 by the Joe Foss Institute, an Arizona-based non-profit started by the former two term governor of South Dakota and first commissioner of the American Football League. The Joe Foss Institute seeks to pass civics education legislation in all 50 states by the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 2017.