PROVIDENCE – Recently passed legislation will require public school students to demonstrate proficiency in civics upon graduation. The law was passed by the General Assembly on July 1 and signed by Governor Dan McKee on July 7. 

“Solid civics education in public schools is absolutely critical to having an informed public,” said Rhode Island Senate sponsor Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), who is vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, serves on the Joint Commission on Civics Education, and was the sponsor of the 2005 law that led to the development of a statewide civics curriculum and standards for grades K through 12. “Students are the next generation of voters. They need and deserve to graduate with a healthy knowledge of how they can create the changes they want to see in their community, their state and their country.”  

The newly passed legislation aims to ensure that “all students understand the principles of democracy, how their government works, the history of the State of Rhode Island and the rights and duties of actively engaged citizenship.” The requirement will take effect beginning with the class of 2023. 

“A thorough grounding in civics should be a cornerstone of every education consisting of two parts,” said RI House sponsor Representative Brian C. Newberry (D-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville). “First it should contain a deep understanding of the foundation of our nation’s government systems and structures, with neither their imperfections whitewashed nor their subtlety, genius and keen reflections of the limitations and foibles of human nature downplayed or diminished. Second, it should contain practical instruction in how government at all levels works, the interplay between those levels, the limitations on power and constructive ways in which to effect change in public policy.” 

Under the new law, individual school districts will be allowed to determine how students can demonstrate proficiency, as many aspects of civics are already integrated into other subjects’ curricula. Students must also complete at least one student-led civics project in either middle or high school. A separate civics course or exam will not be required under the new law.  

“The project could be individual, group or class-wide, and would be designed to promote the student’s ability to reason, make logical arguments and support claims using valid evidence; and demonstrate an understanding of the connections between federal, state and local policies, including issues that may impact the student’s community,” the bill reads.

All local and area representatives, with the exception of Justin K. Price (R-Dist. 39, Richmond, Exeter and Hopkinton) voted in favor of the bill, which widely passed the body and drew no votes in the negative. Price did not vote on the legislation. In the Senate, the bill unanimously passed with one abstention - Senator Jeanine Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick).

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