Dear Friend,
The introduction of the bipartisan, bicameral Civics Secures Democracy Act (CSD) in the 117th Congress in March was an unprecedented affirmation that civic education matters. Our field has never been closer to passing such sweeping federal legislation. CSD would authorize $1 billion annually over five years to states, districts, research centers, and non-profit civics practitioners. However, there is no assurance that this legislation will pass.
Progress in our push to build bipartisan consensus stalled when in April the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) proposed priorities for American History and Civics Education programs, including the Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics and National Activities programs. Within the proposed priorities, the DOE referenced the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and controversial scholar Ibram Kendi, raising concerns that the DOE would impose a national curriculum on states, districts, and schools through the CSD — and that the Biden Administration would attempt to impart progressive ideology on the American classroom. These priorities were wrongly conflated with CSD from the beginning, as the bill, by rule of construction, makes clear: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the Secretary of Education to prescribe a civics and history curriculum.”
Regardless, the proposed priorities ignited a political firestorm, generating nearly 34,000 public comments, the vast majority of them critical, and inflaming a concerted effort across the country to ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” or “critical race theory” through legislative and administrative actions in at least 29 states.
Thankfully, the DOE’s notices to invite applications for this year’s American History and Civics grant programs, released on Monday, eliminate references to the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and scholar Ibram Kendi. Moreover, while emphasizing the importance of culturally responsive curricula and media literacy, “applicants are not required to address these priorities, and earn no additional points and gain no competitive advantage in the grant competition for addressing these priorities.”
In an accompanying blog post, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona also responded to concerns voiced by Republican Members of Congress, and affirmed the importance of civic learning as the “…foundation for students to be active participants in society and help our nation live up to its highest ideals.” Among these values is a shared “commitment to both patriotism and progress.” And he said explicitly that the program “does not, and will not dictate or recommend specific curriculum be introduced or taught in classrooms. Those decisions are –– and will continue to be –– made at the local level.”
Earlier this month, Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), a chief CSD co-sponsor, wrote:
There are increasingly apparent threats to preserving our great republic, including a severe declining knowledge of U.S. history and civics and fading American pride of our youngest citizens. Both are key reasons why I sponsored the bipartisan and bicameral Civics Secures Democracy Act earlier this year. As introduced, this legislation would strengthen and expand access to civics and history education through federal grants to support teaching of these subjects without mandating a national curriculum.
These threats to our constitutional democracy demand a commensurate investment in our youngest citizens in the form of the CSD. With the Federal Register Controversy resolved, it’s time to get back to moving this generational investment in the civic strength of the country.
Your outreach to Senators and Representatives since March have added dozens of cosponsors and elevated the importance of the Civics Secures Democracy Act. Let’s use the clear skies of mid-summer to double back with those offices that have not yet committed to support the bill and thank members already standing in line in support. We’ll be back in touch in early August to roll out our summer recess strategy, where visits to state and district congressional offices will be highly encouraged.
The culture wars are tearing the country apart, and civic education cannot be yet another victim in its wake. Passage of the Civics Secures Democracy Act with bipartisan support is the necessary bridge to a healthier national civic life. Thanks, as always, for your deep commitment to stronger K–12 civic education.
Yours in civics,
Shawn Healy
Senior Director of State Policy and Advocacy, iCivics
CivXNow is a coalition of partners from diverse viewpoints working to create a culture shift that elevates civic education and engagement as a national priority in order to protect and strengthen America’s constitutional democracy. This includes building a shared commitment to ensure that all young people are prepared to assume their rights and responsibilities to participate in civic life and address the issues facing students, their families, and communities in our increasingly dynamic, polarized, and digital society.
To achieve this goal, CivXNow advocates for bipartisan federal and state legislation that supports implementation of state and local policies that reimagine and deliver relevant, inclusive, and engaging K–12 civic learning, both in- and out-of-school.
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