The Civics Bill Tracker, the Civics Education Initiative, and the Civics Shutdown in Texas

David Randall

Resolute is the Civics Alliance’s newsletter, informing you about the most urgent issues in civics education. Above all, Resolute will provide information about federal and state legislation that seeks to impose action civics, or to preserve traditional civics.

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The Civics Bill Tracker

Civics Alliance members may now use the Civics Bill Tracker to track all proposed federal and state legislation related to civics. The Civics Bill Tracker, which will be updated regularly, includes a Database and a Summary Analysis of every proposed civics education bill currently under consideration by legislators. Until now, no webpage collated this information for the public.

The Tracker provides civics reformers several distinct capabilities:

  • Members will be able to see what bills are advancing in their own state.
  • The Database includes the names of bill sponsors. Members can find out which legislators have sponsored good civics legislation and focus further policy information efforts on those legislators.
  • The Database includes the committees where these bills currently stand.
  • The Bill Tracker is also an information-gathering tool, to identify the best civics bills in the nation. Members can find good bills in other states and use them as models for bills in their own states.

The National Association of Scholars’ Civics Alliance staff will use the Civics Bill Tracker to focus their own policy information efforts. All members can use this resource for their own efforts as well.

Issue Focus: The Civics Education Initiative

The Civics Education Initiative (CEI) worked since ca. 2015 on a very worthwhile campaign: to enact state laws requiring high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship test given to immigrants who wish to be naturalized in order to graduate. The CEI forwarded a central strategic goal of civics education reform, to base civics education on a core of factual knowledge. The CEI also relied on an intelligently chosen tactic, to use the already-extant U.S. citizenship test as the basis of that factual knowledge rather than ask state legislators to draft their own core list. The CEI has had remarkable success: 9 states have passed into law a rigorous version of the CEI model bill; 13 states have passed a weaker version of the CEI model bill; and bills to pass CEI model legislation have been introduced in a further 17 states. The CEI itself appears to be moribund as an active political force, but state bills based on the CEI continue to be introduced in state legislatures. Civics Alliance members should consider policy information efforts about CEI bills, which are a good model for civics education reform.

But the CEI as it now stands does not take account of several important issues that have arisen. CEI laws generally assume an unchanging U.S. citizenship test; indeed, some refer to the specific number of questions (100) on the 2008 Civics Test. The Trump administration, however, substituted a more rigorous, 128-question test in 2020, which was rescinded by the Biden administration in 2021. These changes reveal that current CEI laws have a weak foundation, because they depend on the rigor of the existing Civics Test. The Civics Test can be changed—and already there is a movement to ‘reinvigorate’—degrade—the quality of the Civics Test.

CEI laws and bills should be revised on the model of New Hampshire House Bill 320 to specify:

To be eligible for a graduation certificate, a student shall attain a locally sanctioned passing grade on the competency assessment, and a grade of 70 percent or better on the 128 question civics (history and government) naturalization examination developed by the 2020 United States Citizen and Immigration Services.

New Hampshire state legislators have also introduced a wonderful extension of CEI model legislation—House Bill 319—which extends CEI requirements to undergraduate education.

Every student admitted or transferring to an institution in the university system of New Hampshire on or after January 1, 2023 shall, as a requirement for graduation and in addition to any other baccalaureate degree graduation requirements, show proof of having passed the 128-question 2020 version of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization test with a score of 70 of better, or shall be required take and pass such test with a score of 70 or greater.

New Hampshire’s proposed legislation should be considered nationwide. So too should variations that apply to college graduation and teacher licensure.

Continuing Priorities: Federal Legislation

At the federal level, the Civics Secures Democracy Act threatens to impose action civics nationwide.

Continuing Priorities: Texas

Stanley Kurtz writes eloquently in “Civics Shutdown in Texas” about the fierce action civics battle in Texas.

Texas is target number one in the Left’s play to turn the red states blue with a radicalized version of “civics.” ... Several civics bills have been introduced into the Texas Legislature and they run the gamut from 1) a bill that would impose leftist political indoctrination patterned on the Illinois and Massachusetts models on Texas; 2) stealth bills that would do the same over time; 3) a bill that would do no immediate harm but would offer no protections against the encroachments of action civics; 4) bills that would encourage civics, properly understood, while also protecting against the abuses represented by action civics and critical race theory.

Bills promoting action civics include:

S. B. No. 1740: This bill would facilitate action civics, especially by way of a requirement that “each student ... complete a student-led, content-focused civics practicum once during grade eight and once while in high school as part of the social studies curriculum.”

H. B. No. 57 and S. B. No. 229: These identical bills, introduced respectively in the Texas House and Senate, also facilitates action civics, especially by way of requiring “civics projects” that “focus on problem solving.”

H. B No. 3211: This bill authorizes “civics academies,” assisted by “private providers,” that promote teaching how to “effectively engage”—academies whose equivalents in Illinois were used by radical private non-governmental organizations to prepare the way for even more thorough, state-manded action civics.

Bills opposing action civics include:

S. B. 2026: This bill supports civics education inspired by “informed American patriotism,” and which includes the study of “the Founding documents of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers (including but not limited to Essays 10 and 51), excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, and the writings ofthe Founding Fathers of the United States.” While this bill does not explicitly ban action civics, it should nudge Texas civics education in the proper direction.

H. B. No. 3979 and H. B. No. 4093: These identical bills are based on the model “Partisanship Out of Civics Act,” published on the National Association of Scholars’ website. These bills include the same promotion of traditional civics contained in S. B. 2026, as well as an explicit ban on action civics. These bills also contain an element that isn’t in the Partisanship Out of Civics Act—a ban of the intellectual components of Critical Race Theory from public school curricula. NAS believes our public schools and our republic will benefit from such a ban, although we are agnostic as to the tactical question of whether such a reform should be combined with a ban of action civics or introduced as a stand-alone bill.

Of these bills, H. B. Nos. 3979 and 4093 offer the strongest legislative promotion of traditional civics and bar to action civics.

Public Action

We encourage Civics Alliance members to inform the public and policymakers about the stakes and consequences of action civics bills, particularly those in your home states. 

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David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

Image: Darren Patterson, Public Domain

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