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3/12/2024 Legislators join students and educators in calling for civics education funding
STATE HOUSE – Legislative sponsors, students, educators and members of the Rhode Island Civic Learning Coalition rallied at the State House today for a greater focus on civics education in public schools, starting with legislation for increased, dedicated funding established as part of the state’s education funding formula.

“Students need and deserve to understand how democracy and their government work so they know how they can effect change throughout their lives,” said Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket), who is sponsoring legislation to establish the change in the funding formula. “They are the next generation of voters and leaders, and it’s critical that they understand the rights and the responsibilities they have in our country.”

Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), who is sponsoring the legislation in the House, said, “The survival of our democracy depends on each new generation understanding their roles as citizens and potential leaders. Particularly at a time where it can be hard to sort out the many types of messages one encounters every day and to know which ones are facts, which are opinions and which are disinformation, students need real preparation to be informed, active participants in elections and their communities.”

The legislation (2024-H 7036, 2024-S 2321) being sponsored by Representative Speakman and Chairwoman Cano would establish civics education as a new categorical program through the state education funding formula to ensure that every district receives support for effective civics education based on its population’s needs.

The bill specifies that next year, the statewide funding level for civics education shall be $1 million. This funding is to be used exclusively for teacher professional development in civics, including specifics such as culturally responsive teaching, media literacy, and project-based learning; the purchase and creation of civic education curriculum; technical assistance and support for the implementation of student-led civic projects; partnerships with local community organizations; and the evaluation of civic learning at the district level.

“Providing the next generation with what they need to know to participate in democracy is an absolutely vital responsibility of our public schools. Civics must be treated as a necessity, not as a nice bonus for schools that have the time and money. I am proud to support this legislation and to stand alongside my colleagues and the many educators who understand just how important it is to properly support solid civics education for all our students,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), who is the first cosponsor of the Senate bill. The longtime co-chairwoman of the Permanent Commission on Civic Education, she sponsored the 2021 law making civics proficiency a statewide high school graduation requirement, as well as the 2005 law mandating a K-12 civics curriculum.

The Rhode Island Civic Learning Coalition  organized today’s event in support of the legislation, at which the sponsors were joined by educators, students and supporters in calling for increased support for civics education in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Civic Learning Coalition is a multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational coalition committed to ensuring that all Rhode Islanders, including young people and those most marginalized from our democratic system, have equitable access to high-quality civic learning opportunities. 

“Recognizing schools as incubators of our democracy, civic education extends beyond the right to vote to engagement in one’s community, volunteering, participating in group activities, serving in the military, building knowledge on important issues and communicating with their elected representatives. Experiential project-based civics teaches students to engage in civil discourse, bridge their differences and build consensus, skills that we all need in this country,” said Kristina Pires, executive director of Generation Citizen New England and founding member of the Rhode Island Civic Learning Coalition.

Said Caleigh Rockwal, a social studies teacher at 360 High School in Providence, “My confidence in facilitating action civics projects is a direct result of the extensive training that I received when I was first beginning this work in college. In my five years as a teacher, I have rarely, if ever, received professional development that was as targeted and as useful as what I received then. The social studies are too often neglected in an educational landscape that is dominated by standardized testing and career-ready programs. While accountability and career preparation are important, so is readying our students for their responsibilities as citizens. Failing to invest in civics education is failing to invest in our students and in our communities.”

According to the Rhode Island Civic Learning Coalition’s State of Civics Education in RI Report, more than half of Rhode Island students believe that learning about civics now will be important for their future and they are eager to have these opportunities. But only 21% of administrators said their district has a civics course and only 10% said civics is a current priority.

“This year, I voted for the first time. And what I remember most from that experience is that I couldn’t imagine going through that process without having known at least the very basic fundamentals that I’ve learned – mostly outside of the classroom,” said Chloe Feit, a student at Classical High School in Providence and member of the coalition who spoke at today’s event. “No one should be left unaware of how to engage with a government that’s meant to be ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ The hope, or at least my hope, is that with more funding and more advocacy, our communities will become increasingly more prepared to be engaged and be afforded the same civic learning opportunities, if not more, than I was able to experience.”

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923