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Bolstering Civics Education And Increasing School Funding

House Education Committee Unanimously Supports Civics Education Legislation

PHOENIX — The Arizona House Education Committee yesterday unanimously supported legislation to bolster civics education, one of Governor Doug Ducey’s education priorities.

House Bill 2632, sponsored by Representative Quang Nguyen, would make several additions to the Arizona Civics tests, which Arizona students must pass to graduate high school.

Under current law, each Arizona student must pass the citizenship test with a score of 60 percent to graduate high school. Governor Ducey is working alongside Rep. Nguyen on legislation to raise the passing score to 70 percent, allow students to take the test beginning in middle school and require schools to report testing data.

Adam Seagrave, associate director of the Arizona State University School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL), testified before the committee yesterday to voice his support for the legislation. 

“… Far too many American citizens and leaders don’t understand that our complex system of government with its federal structure, its separation of powers, [and] its checks and balances rests upon the principle of fundamental respect for the natural rights and inherent dignity of every human being,” he said. “And that principle accurately understood, truly appreciated and religiously practiced is uniquely capable of transforming political combatants into civic friends.”

Governor Ducey’s budget for next year proposes empowering schools and teachers with bonuses for every student that earns a high score on the Arizona Civics test. 

Sarah Suggs of the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy and Lucian Spataro of SCETL have expressed the importance of investing in strengthening civics education. 

“A strong civics education for our K-12 students, the future leaders and workforce of our state and nation, is imperative,” said Sarah Suggs, president and CEO of the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute for American Democracy. “We strongly support the investment in the Executive Budget for the Civics Excellence Incentive Bonus in its focus to teach Arizona students about civics, civic engagement, and civil discourse.”

“Informing our students about civics and our nation’s history and values is critical to the betterment of our shared future and the preservation of our constitutional democracy,” said Lucian Spataro, senior fellow and interim director of SCETL. “Under Governor Ducey’s leadership, our state has set the standard for civics education. The Civics Excellence Incentive Bonus will only further that leadership and provide additional support to our schools.”

The proposed Civics Excellence Incentive Bonus invests $5 million to reward schools with:

  • $450 per high school student who attends a school with an free or reduced lunch population of 50 percent or greater and achieves a score of 95 percent or above on their first attempt at the civics exam; and

  • $300 per high school student who attends a school with a free or reduced lunch population of less than 50 percent and achieves a score of 95 percent or greater on their first attempt at the civics exam.

Making this performance data easily accessible alongside other key school-level metrics creates additional transparency for parents to determine the school that best fits their child’s needs.

The proposed bonus builds upon Arizona’s actions to bolster civics education in schools.

In 2015, Arizona became the first state in the nation to pass the American Civics Act, requiring high school students to pass the citizenship test before graduation. Since then, 19 other states have followed suit requiring that students take the civics test.

BACKGROUND

In 2015, Governor Ducey signed the American Civics Act to ensure all Arizona students understand American civics, requiring the passage of a civics test before graduating high school. It was the first bill he signed as Governor, making Arizona the first state in the nation to enact such a law.

In March 2020, Governor Ducey signed legislation establishing Civics Celebration Day, a day in which a majority of classroom instruction is devoted to civics education. Schools districts and charter schools across the state used a wide range of engaging activities during Civics Celebration Day last year to teach students about civics and highlight O’Connor’s dedication to promoting civics education. 

In September 2021, Governor Ducey signed legislation to strengthen education about the Holocaust and other genocides in Arizona’s schools. He also announced plans to work with educators and lawmakers to make the teaching of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks mandatory in schools.

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