Senators Coons, Cornyn introduce bipartisan bill to invest $1 billion annually in civics education

Civics Secures Democracy Act would expand educational programs in civics and history at K-12 and higher education institutions

WASHINGTON – This week, Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) reintroduced legislation to expand access to civic education with a $1 billion investment across K-12 and higher education. The Civics Secures Democracy Act will expand educational programming in history and civics, with funding available for state education agencies, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education and research. In addition to Senators Coons and Cornyn, the legislation is led by Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

Civics Secures would help states close key gaps in students’ history and civics educations. Only nine states and the District of Columbia require a full year of civics or government studies, and 10 states have no requirement at all. At the same time, American trust in public institutions is near all-time lows. 

“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. “I am particularly heartened that the spirit of this legislation is reflected in the diverse backgrounds and ideologies of the co-sponsors of this bill, and I thank my colleagues for their work to move this effort forward. By making historic investments in the history and civics education of our children, we will help ensure that the next generation of Americans have the tools they need to be good neighbors and citizens.”

“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,” said Senator Cornyn. “This bill would help our schools inspire the next generation of public servants and teach all young Texans the value of freedom, and I’m glad to work with Sen. Coons on this bipartisan legislation.”

“American democracy is an anomaly in world history, and its future relies on each generation understanding our shared history and founding ideals,” said Senator King. “Supporting civics education is one of the most important investments we can make to protect this system of government for the generations to come. With our nation facing deep divisions, I hope this bipartisan legislation can help bring us together around core principles, support Maine educators, and teach young Americans about what makes our system of self-government so precious.”

“There is an old document around that nobody reads anymore called the Constitution,” said Senator Inhofe. “It established the basis and formation of our nation: that we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Yet, too often, students aren’t taught about the Constitution, its history or its principles. That’s why I am proud to introduce the Civics Secures Democracy Act, which incorporates my CIVICS Act, alongside Sens. Cornyn and Coons to expand civics education. We must do all we can to encourage more young Americans to be active participants in our democracy by communicating with their elected officials, engaging in advocacy and, when eligible, voting in state, local and federal elections.” “America’s history unites us as Americans. Civics education tells that story. As we seek to overcome our divides, telling this story is essential,” said Dr. Cassidy.

The Civil Secures Democracy Act helps support educational programs in civics and history by:

  • Creating a Civics Secures Democracy Fund supported in the first instance using COVID relief funds for programs that have since expired, providing $1 billion annually for civics and history initiatives. These initiatives are broken out as: 
    • $585 million for state education agencies, which would be awarded by formula and passed on to districts to support civics and history education programs, especially with a lens to closing civics achievement gaps;
    • $200 million for nonprofit organizations, which would be awarded competitively and used to develop and provide access to evidence-based civics and history curricula and programs;
    • $150 million for institutions of higher education, which would be awarded competitively, used to support civics and history educator preparation and ongoing development;
    • $50 million for researchers, which would be awarded competitively and used to assess and evaluate civics and history education programs and identify best instructional practices; and
    • $15 million for a new Prince Hall Civics Fellowship program, which would diversify the civics and history education workforce by recognizing outstanding educators from underrepresented communities and providing a supplemental stipend in exchange for a five year teaching commitment.
  • Incorporating the USA Civics Act and CIVICS Act, both bipartisan, updating existing K–12 and higher education civics grant programs.
  • Encouraging the biennial administration of the civics and history NAEP in grades 4, 8, and 12.
  • Strengthening and making the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation and James Madison Fellowship Program sustainable by recapitalizing their respective trusts and providing them broader investment authorities.

“As an association that represents the thousands of state and local historical sites that regularly preserve and teach our states and local communities’ histories, the AASLH is proud to support the Civics Secures Democracy Act,” said John Dichtl, President and CEO, the American Association of State and Local History. “We applaud Senators Coons and Cornyn for leading this needed bi-partisan effort. Knowledge of our history does not reside in our DNA or bloodstream.  This bi-partisan bill empowers local and state historical sites and museums to partner with our schools and ensures the next generation understands the cultural heritage that makes us who we are.”

“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 perform at or above proficient in U.S. history. This isn’t something either side of the aisle can afford to ignore,” said Jason Grumet, President, Bipartisan Policy Center.

“At Boys & Girls Clubs throughout the country a core tenant of our mission is preparing our youth to be responsible, caring and engaged members of society,”said Jim Clark, President & CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “We are grateful to Senators Chris Coons and John Cornyn for their commitment to ensuring greater access to civics and history education through their reintroduction of the Educating for Democracy Act. America’s youth must have the opportunity to learn about our history and government to inform and empower them to lead us into the future.”

Continued neglect of civics education will further weaken both our democratic institutions and our economic competitiveness,” said Sarah Bonk, Founder, Business for America. “An investment in civics education produces a more informed and engaged citizenry, which leads to a more educated workforce, greater market stability, and better economic outcomes.”

“We are at a critical time in our history where we must do everything in our power to invest in a quality civic education for all,” said Christopher R. Riano, President Center for Civic Education. “The Center has a long and very proud history of supporting bills like the Civics Secures Democracy Act, and we again join with Senators and Representatives from all corners of our nation to speak in one united voice in support for this singularly transformative piece of legislation to ensure that all Americans have access to a civic education in the years to come.”

“The First Amendment is one of the cornerstones of our democracy and remains a beacon of hope abroad. Still, it only sustains its power through an informed and knowledgeable citizenry who knows its history and has the skills to responsibly exercise the freedoms it protects,” said Max Nosbisch of the First Amendment Museum. “We applaud Senators Coons and Cornyn for the bipartisan investment they are putting forth through the Civics Secures Democracy Act. If passed, it will go a long way to ensure the next generation is prepared to sustain and live our freedoms in an everlasting pursuit of a more perfect union.”

“For more than a century, Girl Scouts has been at the forefront of civics education,” said Sofia Chang, Chief Executive Officer, Girl Scouts of the USA.“Community engagement, education, and action are a core part of the Girl Scout experience, and though many may not be able to vote yet, it is an imperative that girls understand the levers of our political system and how change is made so they can effectively make their voices heard. The Civics Secures Democracy Act will open opportunities for civics learning everywhere, ensuring Girl Scouts and our nation’s youth, are prepared to go out into the world as informed and engaged citizens, now and for the rest of their lives.”

“Happily the Civics Secures Democracy Act provides significant federal funding to improve civic education while leaving the curricular and teaching decisions where they belong, in the states and local districts,” said David Davenport, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute. “Formula grants to states help assure that this is federal support but not a federal takeover.

“If we are to find a peaceful path forward for America, we must develop a critical mass of young people who are civically well-informed, productively engaged for the common good, and hopeful about the future of democracy,” said Rajiv Vinnakota, President of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars. “The Civics Secures Democracy Act tackles the severe underinvestment in K-12 civic learning and has the potential to restore a spirit of civic participation, cooperation, and belonging we haven’t seen in generations.”

“Introduction of the bipartisan Civics Secures Democracy Act is a long-overdue initiative to invest in our nation’s civic education,” said Lewis F. Larsen, President, James Madison Foundation. “For more than three decades, the James Madison Foundation has promoted the U.S. Constitution through its fellowship program and this legislation will ensure that our efforts will continue for years to come.”

“James Madison’s Montpelier applauds Senators Coons and Cornyn for taking this needed, transformative and bi-partisan step to support civics and history education,” said Elizabeth Chew, Interim President and CEO, James Madison’s Montpelier. “The legacy of President Madison and other founders is not simply history; their challenges and transformative thinking are still applicable and animate our daily experience as Americans. We support the efforts and goals of the Civics Secures Democracy Act because exposing young people to the history and the associated accomplishments and challenges is the best way we know to preserve the democratic experiment that President Madison and his contemporaries gave so much of their lives to.”

“The League of Women Voters of the United States applauds the reintroduction of the bipartisan Civics Secures Democracy Act, as it complements our mission to empower voters and defend democracy. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit voting rights and democracy policy organization, the League values equipping future generations with the tools to inherit and lead a healthy American democracy,” said the League of Woman Voters. “All students have the right to an education that prepares them to participate effectively in our democracy. The League supports bringing the Civics Secures Democracy Act for debate and passage to promote an informed citizenship through K-12 education around the country.“Local Civics believes that the Civics Secures Democracy Act is vital to prepare the next generation of Americans to effectively engage in all dimensions of our civic life and lead our nation,” said Beverly DeLeon, Founder and CEO, Local Civics. “This bill will empower local and state education agencies as well as local communities to determine how to best educate our youngest citizens about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, helping these citizens to acquire the skills to be trusted stewards of American Democracy. Local Civics encourages Congress to support the future of our democracy through this critical investment in civics education.”

“America’s ongoing experiment in liberty, equality, and self-government that sparked the American Revolution is something that each generation must learn anew,” said R. Scott Stephenson, PhD, President and CEO, the Museum of the American Revolution. “The fact that we spend only 5 cents on civics and history education for every $50 we spend on STEM makes that work difficult; Like STEM, we need to invest in our young people’s historical and civic knowledge. We affirm and applaud Senators Cornyn and Coons for coming together around this bi-partisan effort to reinvest in our students and the American experiment.”

“This bill follows the important work of the Commission on Military, National and Public Service by offering a bold and inclusive vision to significantly strengthen the culture of service in our nation, which begins with comprehensive civic education and service learning starting in kindergarten through high school,” said Dr. Joseph Heck, former Republican Congressman from Nevada and Chair, National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.

“A hallmark of rural areas is the sense of connectedness and community pride,” said Allen Pratt, Executive Director, National Rural Education Association. “A big part of that is education and, in particular, civics and history education.  Unfortunately, rural schools and communities have not had the resources to fully fulfill our schools’ vital civic mission. This bipartisan, common-sense bill would go a long way in addressing that reality and give local decision-makers the tools they desperately need. We are proud to support it and commend Senators Cornyn and Coons for leading the effort.”

“Civic education is a pillar of American society,” said Rye Barcott, Co-Founder and CEO, With Honor Action. “The bipartisan Civics Secures Democracy Act is an invaluable piece of legislation that will ensure a new generation of Americans has access to civics education. With Honor Action is grateful to Senator Chris Coons and Senator John Cornyn for their leadership in making this critical investment a reality.”

A section-by-section summary of the Civics Secures Democracy Act is available here.

A one-pager for the Civics Secures Democracy Act is available here.

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