A bill to encourage civics engagement among students is ready for a vote on the House floor.
The House is taking up the Senate companion (SB 146).
The House bill (HB 611), sponsored by Rep. Ben Diamond, and the Senate version now on the table, would create a high school civics option for school districts to include a nonpartisan civic literacy project through U.S. government curriculum. That project would require students to identify an issue or problem in the community, research the problem, and develop strategies to address it.
“It has been said that democracy is not a spectator sport and this bill is part of an ongoing and bipartisan effort to help our students learn the skills they need to be effective and engaged in citizenship,” Diamond said.
The bill would give students the opportunity to supplement U.S. government education through community service and real-life problem solving. On Wednesday, an amendment was added to clarify how students could spend this time.
Community service hours completed through the proposed project could be applied toward students’ eligibility for the Bright Futures Scholarship.
The legislation would also allow participating schools to be designated “Freedom Schools.” It would also require civics education in high school.
The bills seek to address a problem highlighted in Florida. U.S. Census Bureau data that shows Florida is one of the least civically engaged states in the nation, ranking near the bottom nationwide in voter turnout in local elections as well as through attendance at public meetings or in membership to civic groups.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated support for increased civics education. He said he supports “high-quality” civics education, under the direction of the Department of Education. In his budget, DeSantis proposed $16.5 million to add training for school principals to elevate civics education in schools. They would be helped by “regional civics coaches.” Another $6.5 million would be allocated to a career pathways program, which DeSantis described as “public service incubators.”
In mid-March at a press conference, DeSantis described how he sees civics education, saying it would include “foundational concepts with the best materials” that exclude “critical race theory.” He said “teaching kids to hate their country and hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.”