TOPEKA — – A bill hat would require schools to devote a week in mid-September each year to focus on teaching students about the country's founding won backing from the state House on Friday.
The “Celebrate Freedom Week” measure, one of several bills sponsored by conservative Republicans that would affect school curriculums, passed on a 95-25 vote. It would require the State Board of Education to develop rules and regulations for public schools in collaboration with other state agencies and private entities who volunteer to participate. A handful of states, including Texas in 2001, have adopted similar weeks dedicated to civics instruction.
The measure also states that religious references in the writings shall not be censored from the teaching of the materials.
Supporters didn't mention religion or specific constitutional rights during their debate, instead focusing on the desire to increase patriotism and general knowledge they see as lacking in the state.
“I see it as an engaging time. It should be a fun time,” said Rep. Kelly Meigs, lead sponsor of the bill and a Lenexa Republican.
Rep. John Bradford said students weren't being taught U.S. history and government in depth, often glossing through major events in a few paragraphs or pages. He said freedom week would be a chance to go beyond textbooks on subjects.
Bradford, a sponsor of the bill who spent more than 20 years in the military, said he wants to instill a greater sense of patriotism in Kansas' children.
“I have pride and I want to instill that pride in all the kids in the neighborhood,” the Lansing Republican said.
Opponents said schools don't need more regulations on what goes on in the classroom.
“How ironic that we have a bill with freedom in the name that is one more mandate on local government,” said Rep. Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican.
Although he didn't disagree with the concept of more focus on history, Rep. Ed Trimmer said requiring a full week in September to teach the subject could be out of synch with the rest of the civics curriculum. He also said the bill was advanced to debate without discussion in committee about what the State Board of Education already requires schools to teach students about history and government in existing academic standards.
“We're making assumptions about something that we know nothing about,” said Trimmer, of Winfield, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said it's not the fault of schools and teachers that most Kansas residents lack sufficient knowledge of history, adding that the responsibility falls to parents and others to talk about the subject with students.
“We probably should all just look in the mirror,” Davis said.
Rep. Ward Cassidy, a St. Francis Republican, said he supported the concept but would prefer it be a nonbinding resolution instead of a mandate requiring schools to teach something legislators feel is important. He said he thinks students should learn how to give a good handshake to others, but that legislators shouldn't be requiring schools to teach that.
“I don't think that every time we have a great idea that we should mandate schools to do that great idea,” Cassidy said.
The bill is one of several conservatives have sponsored that would affect school curriculums, including one that would require teachers to give equal treatment to viewpoints on global warming and other topics that contradict the prevailing scientific views. They also are seeking to block implementation of the federal Common Core Standards for reading and math, calling it an unfunded mandate on states and forcing them to give up control of what is taught in the classroom to a national consortium.