Bipartisan legislation recently re-introduced in the Senate would mark a historic federal investment in civics and history education if enacted into law. On June 14th, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a revised version of the Civics Secures Democracy Act, now S. 4384, with Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) joining as original cosponsors. Originally introduced in 2021, the revised version of the bill clarifies the federal government’s role in allocating funding and provides budget offsets, initially through unobligated COVID relief funds.
As described in the bill, the Civics Secures Democracy Act would “support local educational agencies, elementary schools, and secondary schools in selecting and making available to all students innovative, engaging curricula and programs in civics and history that prepare them to understand American Government and engage in American democratic practices as citizens and residents of the United States.” It would accomplish this by providing $1 billion in federal funding annually for fiscal years 2022-2027 for civics and history initiatives through grants to state education agencies, institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations, and qualified researchers. The bill would not impose specific curriculum requirements but would prioritize grants for programs that incorporate evidence-based practices and address needs of traditionally underserved students. Currently, a majority of states require only one semester of civics or government studies, and ten states have no requirement at all.
“I have long believed that equipping students with robust understandings of their government and history is a critical step toward building a stronger, more resilient America,” said Senator Coons. Senator Cornyn added, “As President Lincoln said, ours is a government of the People, by the People, and for the People, but we can't govern ourselves if we don't have knowledge of our foundational principles or our history.” More than 200 organizations across a broad political and geographic spectrum, including the ABA, have endorsed the legislation.
The House version of the Civics Secures Democracy Act was originally introduced in March 2021 by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Tom Cole (R-OK), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). A revised version is expected to be introduced in the near future.
The ABA has a long history of support for civics education initiatives. Several recently adopted policies highlight the importance of civics education in fostering understanding of the Constitution and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, including voting. The ABA adopted a policy in August 2020 supporting federal initiatives to promote digital literacy and civic education to build societal resilience to malign disinformation operations and to increase understanding of the importance of democracy, voting, and democratic institutions. In August 2021, the ABA adopted a policy specifically supporting the Civics Secures Democracy Act and urging state, local, territorial, and tribal officials, and private sector entities to adopt the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap as a model to expand and improve civic education in their jurisdictions.
The ABA Governmental Affairs Office has created a resource page that provides additional information on the Civics Secures Democracy Act, as well as a list of all ABA policy related to civics education. The resource page also includes a link to the Grassroots Action Center to enable ABA members to write, call or utilize social media to urge their members of Congress to support the bill.