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.”