Alaska lawmakers debate requiring constitutional education

AP News
Posted: Feb 06, 2015 3:10 PM

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska lawmakers are considering a bill that would require school districts to teach American constitutionalism, the latest of several state government measures across the U.S. aimed at civics education.

The House Education Committee heard Friday from members of the public who supported the bill, including some former educators.

Some committee members expressed skepticism, including Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican. He said he was concerned about how the Constitution would be characterized.

The panel didn't take a vote on the proposal, which will likely come back up for debate Monday.

The bill would require Alaska high school students to study the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers and the first state constitutions.

Arizona and North Dakota legislators last month adopted GOP-sponsored laws requiring high school students to pass the civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test to receive a diploma. Lawmakers in Utah, South Dakota and Tennessee and other states are now considering similar bills at the suggestion of Republican sponsors.

State Rep. Wes Keller, one of three House sponsors, has called the bill a "soft mandate." His intent is to allow each school district to decide how to implement the requirement. Districts can add the material to an existing history or civics course, or another class, he said, but such a unit must be required for graduation.

The Wasilla Republican just wants to share his reverence for the nation's Constitution with students, he said.

"The more I look at it, the more awed I get with the incredible values on which our country is founded," he said ahead of the committee hearing.

This is the third time Keller has introduced such a bill. He did so in 2011 and 2013; neither of those bills made it very far in the legislative process.

An aide to Keller said that while the issue wasn't a priority before, this time around, it appears there's more momentum within the Legislature, and in the state as a whole, for the bill.