Today’s Indiana fourth-graders would have to take a civics course in middle school, under a bill overwhelmingly approved by the Indiana House.
Cicero Representative and former Hamilton Heights Superintendent Tony J. Cook (R) says the bill plugs an important hole in Indiana’s curriculum. His bill calls for the State Board of Education to issue standards by next summer. Schools would decide whether to put civics class in sixth, seventh or eighth grade.
Representatives from both parties say they regularly see firsthand a lack of understanding of how government works. Lafayette Representative Sheila Klinker (D) says voters often ask her how things are in Washington. And House Majority Leader Matt Lehman (R-Berne) says when he visits classrooms to explain how a bill becomes law, parents often come up to him afterward to say how much of it was new to them.
Indiana already requires a one-semester government course in high school. A pair of Indiana Bar Foundation task forces over the last two years recommended expanding that requirement to a full year, and adding elementary and middle school courses as well. The panel, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch, says it’s not enough to touch on government basics as part of a broader social studies curriculum. It says there needs to be a dedicated focus on the subject.
The expanded curriculum was one of 14 proposals the task force recommended implementing over the next five years, along with ideas such as requiring students to complete two civic projects, and requiring aspiring teachers to take a political science course.
The Bar Foundation’s Civic Health Index in 2019 concluded students needed a better understanding not just of the mechanics of government, but media literacy and the ways to get involved in one’s community. The report pointed to reduced rates of community involvement, and declining voter registration and turnout.
Last year’s election turnout rebounded to 65-percent, Indiana’s highest in 40 years. But the previous election in 2016 saw Indiana’s lowest presidential-year turnout in 40 years, despite then-Governor Mike Pence’s presence on the ballot as Donald Trump’s running mate. And off-year turnout bottomed out at 35-percent in 2014 before bouncing back to a 32-year high in 2018.
The Senate will take up the bill next month.