Washington, DC – Education sets the foundation for youth civic engagement which directly impacts our nation’s political environment and the skills of local, state, and federal leaders. Yet classrooms today severely lack the tools to develop civically engaged citizens. BPC applauds Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and John Cornyn (R-TX), as well as Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Mark Kelly (D-AZ), for leading the bipartisan reintroduction of the Civics Secures Democracy Act to reinvigorate historically inadequate instruction of core democratic institutions and principles to strengthen the next generation of American leaders. It would direct $1 billion in federal investment across five years in school districts, nonprofits, and education centers to develop curricula and opportunities for improving civics and history comprehension throughout K-12 education.
The magnitude of this civic literacy crisis can best be underscored by a comparison of funding. While the federal government invests 5 cents per K-12 student ($4 million total) in civic education, around $54 per K-12 student is invested to support science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teaching. Though we can rationalize the greater expense of teaching highly technical issues, the merit of high-quality civics education remains undervalued. Teachers have reported feeling unprepared to support students’ civic development, experiencing pressure to prioritize other subjects, and lacking the resources and training needed to equip their students. While a majority of teachers have reported feeling well prepared to teach math and English, only 19% feel well prepared to teach civics.
“For better or for worse, the quality of civics education directly influences the political environment of our nation and strength of our democracy. In 2018, less than one-quarter of eighth-graders performed at or above proficient in civics, and just 15% of students performed at or above proficient in U.S. history. This isn’t something either side of the aisle can afford to ignore,” said BPC President Jason Grumet.
BPC has long been a leader exploring ways to improve our political and governing processes in a polarized atmosphere. As a former co-chair of BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, former Sen. Trent Lott noted, “Civics is essential to understanding our democracy.”
We commend Sens. Coons and Cornyn for their leadership on this critical issue and encourage Congress to act on this bipartisan, bicameral effort to educate the next generation of policymakers, elected officials, and engaged citizens.