Congress is making real progress on the first major rewrite of education law in more than a dozen years. These efforts may portend a rare legislative success for both Republicans and Democrats in a divided Washington.

High school students in some states will soon have to pass a civics exam—the same exam used to quiz immigrants who want to become United States citizens—in order to graduate. In January, Arizona became the first state to require the test, starting with the 2016-17 school year. Idaho, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah followed suit and enacted what is often referred to as the Civics Education Initiative. The Louisiana Legislature passed a civics exam in June, which now awaits Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature.

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Since its inception in 1955, the Advanced Placement program has been used by millions of high school students who want to experience the rigor of college-level courses before graduation. The long-running program continues to gain popularity. In fact, participation in AP classes by high school graduates in the United States nearly doubled over the past decade. While AP courses are available in many high schools across the country, some states, like Indiana, require every high school to provide students with access to the classes.

According to a recent report released by the Census Bureau, per pupil spending for the U.S. in fiscal year 2013 was $10,700 – less than 1 percent more than in 2012. New York spent the most per student - $19,818 – followed by Alaska ($18,175), the District of Columbia ($17,953), New Jersey ($17,572) and Connecticut ($16,631). Utah spent the least per pupil – $6,555 – followed by Idaho ($6,791), Arizona ($7,208), Oklahoma ($7,672) and Mississippi ($8,130).

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How many amendments does the U.S. Constitution have? How old do citizens have to be to vote for presidents? How many U.S. senators are there?
Those are among the 100 questions that new immigrants study and learn before taking the test to become a U.S. citizen. Now, some state legislatures are considering proposals to require students to pass the citizenship test in order to graduate from high school.
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A year after they have left high school, 58 percent of Wisconsin students with disabilities report that they have not yet worked, participated in a job-training program or taken a postsecondary course. Rep. Robert Brooks, a first-year legislator in the state Assembly, believes the state and its schools can do better for this population.
His plan, introduced at least initially as a budget resolution, calls for new pay-for- performance incentives for school districts to improve their career- and college-readiness programs for students with disabilities.

How can states better ensure that soon-to-be high school graduates are leaving their K–12 education systems ready to succeed in college or the workforce? For states, finding answers to that policy question has never been more important because of a continuing economic trend—jobs are demanding more and more skills and increasingly requiring some level of postsecondary training.

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In 1985, Minnesota became the first U.S. state to allow and provide funding for high school juniors and seniors to take college-level courses. Thirty years later, the program has evolved and grown, and it may expand once again this year under a plan to improve affordability and accessibility to “concurrent enrollment”: students taking college-level courses at their own high schools.
 
This opportunity to earn college credits without leaving a high school campus has clearly caught on: Since 2009, participation in concurrent enrollment has grown by 24 percent.
 
But Minnesota Sen. Greg Clausen, a principal for 15 years in the Twin Cities area, says the state’s current level of support for the program — $2 million in net aid per year — isn’t enough to address student demand for these courses.
 
 
“It’s an underfunded program right now,” says Clausen, who has proposed an increase in state funding, to $9 million a year, under legislation introduced this year (SF 995). “We allocated [up to] $150 per student registration, and right now, that does not cover the cost. So we have our secondary schools paying out of their general fund.”
 
Additional state dollars would be used to reimburse school districts, expand the number of courses offered by postsecondary institutions, and pay for teacher and staff development. The bill would also make ninth- and 10th-graders eligible for concurrent enrollment, at the discretion of their districts.
 
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After decades of experience in Nebraska’s public schools, including 15 years as a principal, Sen. Rick Kolowski learned quite a bit about the students he taught and helped graduate. One lesson learned, he says, is that young people need to be prepared for college and careers — now more than ever before. A second lesson is the value of academic and scheduling rigor, which Kolowski says not only challenges students, but also gets them excited about their future.
 
“We need to work on maximizing the junior and senior years of high school,” Kolowski says. “It is especially important that these students have full, rigorous schedules that get them ready for college or a career.”
 
As a legislator, Kolowski is now pushing for a new law that would get the state more involved in delivering a better curriculum to students in the final years of their K-12 careers. LB 343 would reimburse school districts with successful existing programs and offer grants to schools that need help in implementing new ones.
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In response to growing concerns about the standardized tests that students must take, legislative proposals have been introduced this year in a handful of Midwestern states.

 

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