chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
January 04, 2022 HUMAN RIGHTS

American Bar Association Advances Civic Education

by Patricia D. Lee and Frank Valadez

On August 9, 2021, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates by a vote of 330–9 passed Resolution 21A606, which consists of two clauses:

  • That the ABA supports the enactment of the Civics Secures Democracy Act (HR 1814 and S 879, 117th Congress) or similar legislation to provide support for expanded and improved civic education in the United States.
  • That the ABA urges state, local, territorial, tribal officials, and private sector entities to adopt the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) Roadmap as a model to expand and improve civic education in their jurisdictions.

This resolution was sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Public Education and cosponsored by seven additional ABA entities and is part of a long history of ABA support for high-quality civic education. Since 1995, the ABA has passed more than a dozen resolutions addressing various aspects of civic education, including:

  1. specific areas of study, such as law, as part of high-quality civic education;
  2. the importance for lawyers and judges to support quality education;
  3. the need for funding and effective assessment of civic education; and
  4. the necessity of quality civic education as an imperative for voting and national security.
Since 1995, the ABA has passed more than a dozen resolutions addressing various aspects of civic education.

Since 1995, the ABA has passed more than a dozen resolutions addressing various aspects of civic education.


With the passage of Resolution 21A606, the ABA joins hundreds of organizations to refocus attention and resources on civic education. In recent decades, federal, state, and local leaders have de-emphasized civics and history in favor of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathemathics) and literacy. As a result, funding for civic education has fallen far below the levels for STEM. As a 2018 study by the Government Accountability Office showed, federal expenditures for STEM education totaled $2.95 billion, which came to approximately $54,000 per enrolled K–12 student. By contrast, the total congressional appropriation for civic education in 2019 totaled $3 million, or about 5 cents per student.

A troubling result of this situation is the diminished confidence of many Americans in democracy and weak resilience in response to misinformation. A 2018 Democracy Project survey of 1,400 adults revealed that, when asked about the importance of democracy to American society, only 39 percent of young adults ages 29 and under said it was “absolutely important.”

The Civics Secures Democracy Act (CSDA) and the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) Roadmap operate in tandem to provide essential funding, resources, and guidance for teachers, leaders, and community members to ensure that young people emerge from school with the knowledge and skills they need to secure American democracy now and in the future.

CSDA addresses these issues by providing funding to expand and improve civic education. It reverses chronic underinvestment by providing $1 billion annually for five years (which is still only 35 percent of annual funding to STEM) to states and school districts to support quality history and civic education that informs and empowers students to participate in our constitutional democracy. This funding includes:

  • $585 million in the formula for state education agencies to support civics and history education programs, especially with a lens to closing civics achievement gaps;
  • $200 million for nonprofit organizations to develop and provide access to evidence-based civics and history curricula and programs;
  • $150 million for institutions of higher education to support civics and history educator preparation and ongoing development;
  • $50 million for research to assess and evaluate civics and history education programs and identify best instructional practices; and
  • $15 million for a fellowship program to diversify the civics and history education workforce.

The EAD Roadmap, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, was released publicly on March 2, 2021, and offers “a framework for excellence in civic and history education for all learners.” A broad and inclusive coalition of civic education organizations led by CivXNow developed the Roadmap, and it reflects “the work of hundreds of ideologically, philosophically, and demographically diverse historians, political scientists, and educators” who discussed and debated approaches and aspirations that resulted in consensus on the shape and focus of the Roadmap. The EAD Roadmap provides crucial guidance for national, state, tribal, and local leaders to assess the adequacy of current practices, standards, and resources, and guide innovation to improve civic education.

Both CSDA and EAD have bipartisan and broad ideological support. CSDA has been sponsored in both houses of Congress, signaling a bipartisan commitment to strengthening civic education from K–12 through higher education. Lead sponsors of the legislation in the U.S. Senate are John Cornyn (R-TX) and Christopher Coons (D-DE), and sponsors in the House of Representatives include Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Thomas Cole (R-OK), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

EAD has earned broad support across the ideological spectrum, as six former secretaries of education—Lamar Alexander, Arne Duncan, John King, Rod Paige, Richard Riley, and Margaret Spellings—wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion article: “The [Educating for American Democracy] roadmap aims to renew the study of history and rebuild civic education from the ground up, by providing guiding principles for the states, local school districts and educators across the [United States]. They, in turn, can establish their own standards and tailor curricular materials to their local communities.” The secretaries emphasize that instead of promoting a curriculum or set of standards, the Roadmap is “a call to action to invest in strengthening history and civic learning. It lays a foundation to deliver opportunities for excellence in civic learning equitably to all students.”

The CSDA and the EAD Roadmap are clear next steps to ensure the security of our democracy. As Laura Farber, California delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, said in presenting the resolution for adoption, these efforts are necessary “to ensure that young people emerge from school with the knowledge and skills they need to secure American democracy now and into the future. The ABA must lead in this space . . . so that we can ensure that we have a democracy . . . that is based on support for understanding and engagement.”

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.

Patricia D. Lee

2021-22 Chair, ABA Standing Committee on Public Education

Patricia D. Lee is chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Public Education. She recently retired after serving as the special assistant for diversity and bar relations at the State Bar of California. She has also been instrumental in creating and supporting the California LAW Pathway diversity educational pipeline.

Frank Valadez

Director, ABA Division for Public Education

Frank Valadez has served as director of the ABA Division for Public Education since 2017. He also serves on the executive committee of the Civics Renewal Network and as the ABA’s staff liaison to CivXNow and other education networks.