Lawmakers should stop misguided move to defund Florida Joint Center for Citizenship


It’s not uncommon for well-intentioned state lawmakers to overreach by targeting a painful point against an organization that earned its way into the crosshairs of controversy and criticism.

That surely seems to be the case for one hugely misguided legislative action aimed at the University of Central Florida — for violating protocol and propriety when it shuffled money from purposes set by the Legislature so it could construct buildings legislators wouldn’t fund.

Lawmakers are mad, and I get it.

But it seems like they are preparing to take out their anger on exactly the wrong target. There’s a plan to eliminate all funding for the nationally respected Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, which works with teachers, school districts and others to boost K-12 civics education — programs that teach our kids about citizenship and how government operates.

FJCC is a partnership between UCF’s Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government and the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service. Last school year, over 125,000 students used FJCC online resources, and online sessions gave kids more than 92,000 hours of direct instructional support.

According to the Lou Frey Institute, when teachers use their resources, students score 20-25 percent higher on Florida’s end-of-course civics assessment.

Civics education is at the core of everything we are as a society. It’s about the law and the Constitution. It’s about voting and free speech. It’s about free expression of religion and speaking up freely to the government itself. In other words, it’s about America.

The Legislature requires civics education for millions of Florida children. In light of that, cutting funding for a resource that’s shown long-term significant ability to improve civics education seems to be an unwise and uncivil course of action.

The UCF leaders who did wrong have been held accountable for ignoring or overriding legislative authority, and the school has taken steps to get on the straight and narrow. The thing is, the people who did wrong will not suffer if the Legislature wipes out FJCC’s funding.

No, the ones who will pay the price are today’s kids — who will become tomorrow’s adults, citizens, leaders in every sphere of influence. What they don’t know will hurt us all, as a society.

Legislators should not be punishing an outstanding institution that is working hard to right the ship. FJCC conducts civics education under the names of two of Florida’s most civic-minded leaders of the past 40 years. Bob Graham and Lou Frey, a Democrat and a Republican, understood how government can be an instrument for good when used properly and in a limited way to find creative, workable solutions to problems.

They certainly understood the importance of the saying long popular around the Capitol: ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship did nothing wrong — but rather does so much right.

It would be a shame to see it, and the children who benefit from its programs, penalized for mistakes and misdeeds unrelated to its fine work and mission.

Fortunately, there’s time for state legislators to fix this problem of their own creation before it’s too late.

To do otherwise would be to ensure a dark chapter in the legacy of the 2019 session: a cheap shot blow to the very kind of quality civics education that has properly enjoyed bipartisan support in Florida’s state leadership.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


  • Julia

    March 22, 2019 at 8:24 am

    The Lou Frey Institute should be defunded. It is not a civic literacy institute; it is a political science institute. And the Graham Center is not Civic Literacy, either. It is a leadership institute. Both of them neglect the other half of civic literacy as defined in HB 7069, which is the study of history. And don’t buy the notion that Frey is just K-12. Last year, the Department of Education contracted with them to create a bypass test, based on the fifth grade level U.S. Citizenship Test, FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS. The Board of Governors adopted it before the ink was dry for universities;j the Department of Education would like to adopt it for colleges, too, but knows they can’t because a new test is prohibited by Section 1007.25, F.S. It must be defunded.

    • Brian

      March 25, 2019 at 8:18 am

      The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, established as a collaboration between the Graham Center and the Frey Institute, is indeed a civic literacy organization. It has provided resources and professional development for civic education since its founding, and these resources do indeed include a consideration of American history and an emphasis on our Founding documents, especially the US Constitution. All resources provided by the Joint Center are aligned with the state’s own standards for middle school civics. You can take a look at both and to see the types of resources developed by FJCC. The Lou Frey Institute is NOT just a political science institute; most of its work deals with K-12 civic education in Florida and nationally

  • Ted McConnell

    March 22, 2019 at 9:38 am

    I work closely with the Lou Frey Institute and the Florida Joint Center, to improve civic education around the nation. Thanks to these two outstanding organizations, Florida is considered a national leader in effective civic education for all K-12 students. The innovative curricular materials developed by the Frey Institute make civics relevant and interesting to students. That superb teaching material is being replicated around the nation. For the sake of the future civic health of Florida and our Republic, we urge that the Lou Frey Institute and the Florida Joint Center on Citizenship continue to be funded, so that they may continue their essential work of providing civic knowledge and civic skills to the students of Florida.
    Ted McConnell
    Executive Director
    Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools

    • Julua

      March 22, 2019 at 2:45 pm

      Not a single word about how Frey colluded with the Department of Education in an attempt to treat college students like fifth graders. To repeat, Frey is not a civic literacy institute; it’s a political science one and the two are not the same.

  • Sheila Smith

    March 23, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    Because of Lou Frye and Bob Graham’s vision of government and the work of the Institute Florida is a leader in civics education across the nation. I agree with Mr McConnell. When we were developing Our American Voice an action civics program for elementary and middle school students in Illinois that has impacted more than 4500 students and their communities across the state, the staff at the Lou Frye institute shared with us their program and feedback which improved our program.
    “America has never been united by blood, or birth, or soil but by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught those principles. Every citizen must uphold them”. (George W. Bush). I hope the Florida Legislature continues to support the work of the Institute which has impacted so many civics organizations across the country.

  • Maria

    March 24, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    The resources provided by FJCC and Lou Frey have been incredibly helpful in my civics course! Especially

Comments are closed.


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