By: Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – Dec. 2018
Governor Baker recently signed into law a bill filed by Senator Harriette Chandler and myself that will enhance non-partisan civics education in our public schools. This legislation exposes students to the founding documents of our country, the fundamentals of our legal system, the roles and responsibilities of the three branches of government, and many other fundamental elements of how our democracy works. Representative Andy Vargas also played a key role in the development and passage of this legislation.
The law expands the required civics curriculum taught in public schools to include news media literacy, the responsibility of citizenship, and the functions of the branches of local, state, and federal government. It also establishes a High School Voter Challenge program to increase voter registration and pre-registration for eligible students.
In order to promote a hands-on approach to civics, the law also requires every public middle and high school to provide one non-partisan, student-led civics project for each student. The projects can be individual, small group, or class-wide and will help students understand how local, state, and federal policies affect their schools and communities. Other project goals include learning to engage in civil discourse, consider different points of view, and make logical arguments supported by evidence. Students in eighth grade will have the opportunity to present their projects at a statewide civics fair called the Commonwealth Civics Challenge.
Finally, the law directs the state to give information to cities and towns about how to promote youth membership on local boards, committees, and commissions. This will help our youth to gain real experience with local issues and municipal governance.
The legislation was drafted with input from Democratic and Republican legislators from all parts of the Commonwealth and received widespread bipartisan support throughout the legislative process. After first being sent to the Governor’s desk in July, the bill was returned to the Legislature with two minor amendments. A compromise was reached to address the Governor’s concerns and make certain that civics education remained non-partisan. The final bill was sent back to the Governor’s desk at the end of October and signed shortly thereafter. With this new law, our students will gain the skills to form their own opinions and engage with the political process. This is good for our communities, good for Massachusetts, and good for democracy at large.
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell represents the cities of Methuen and Haverhill in the State Legislature and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Revenue Committee. She can be reached at Linda.Campbell@mahouse.gov or at 617-722-2380. ◊