Six months ago, Charlie Baker and the Legislature agreed on a plan to reintroduce civics education to Bay State schools in an aggressive fashion. Earlier this week, lawmakers took a major step toward keeping that promise when the state Senate added $1.5 million to next year’s budget to help pay for the initiative.
The new law requires that schools with eighth-grade students must provide at least one student-led, nonpartisan civics project for each student, the idea being to give young people hands-on experience in how their government works. The bill also created the Civics Project Trust Fund to help communities — particularly underserved communities — meet history and civics education requirements.
The aim of the new law, as written, says schools must also aid in “the development of skills to access, analyze and evaluate written and digital media as it relates to history and civics” and give students “opportunities to identify and debate issues relative to power, economic status and the common good in democracy.”
Those goals, while invaluable, come with a price tag for cash-strapped schools, and while the original bill created the trust fund, it didn’t actually fund it.
The Senate took care of that Wednesday, voting 39-0 in favor of an amendment adding $1.5 million to the trust fund for next year’s instruction.
State Sen. Harriette Chandler, who sponsored the amendment as well as the original bill, called the money “a down payment.”
“These projects require good teacher training and in-depth curriculum,” Chandler said. “The money included in this amendment will capitalize the Civics Project Trust Fund to support the infrastructure, curriculum resources and professional resources needed to integrate high-quality civics education.”
Lawmakers should be commended for following through and funding the civics program for 2020. The next step is to set up a permanent funding mechanism that isn’t subject to the uncertainties of the budget amendment process. Civics education is vital to to the health of our democracy, and a steady funding source is the best way to make sure it happens.