TALLAHASSEE — Hoping to educate students to not look foolish if quizzed by a talk show host, Florida lawmakers are poised to enact a law that would force kids to pass a middle school civics test in order to get to high school.
"I call this the anti-Jay Leno bill," said state Sen. Nancy Detert, the bill's sponsor, referring to the host's Jaywalking segment. "Because I'm not amused by the fact that nobody knows anything about their government — although they all have an opinion."
Florida law says students in middle school must take social studies courses, including civics, but does not require them to pass a test to be promoted.
That would change under the bill. The test would make up 30 percent of a child's final grade in the 2013 school year; by 2014-15, a student would have to pass the test in order to complete the course and move on.
Test results would factor into school grades by the 2013-14 school year.
The bill already passed the House and sailed through a Senate appropriations committee Tuesday on its way to a full vote on the floor.
Lawmakers heard their own lecture on the subject during last year's session, when retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor urged them to emphasize civics education. The effort failed. This year's bill is called the Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Civics Education Act.
Included under the civics umbrella: the roles of federal, state and local government; the three branches of government and the significance of historical documents that many schoolchildren might have come across in movies like National Treasure.
The estimated cost of the annual assessment is $1.5 million — a figure Detert, a Sarasota Republican, called ludicrous. She and another lawmaker vowed to put their heads together and figure out a way to bring the price tag down before the full Senate votes.
"Maybe one way is to have them do the naturalization test," she suggested. ''Immigrants have to pass that, and they know more about our government than our own kids do."