Florida ranks 50th in the nation in volunteerism, according to the Florida Nonprofit Alliance, and the U.S. Census Bureau says the Sunshine State is one of the least civically active in the country, ranking near the bottom in voter turnout, public meeting attendance and in community organization membership.
Discussions about how to increase citizen engagement have been explored at a recent Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Florida Forum and elsewhere, but a proposed bipartisan 2020 bill will attempt to address the issue by creating civically active citizens in high school.
House Bill 581 would boost high school civics education through community projects for Florida students.
The bill was filed Thursday by co-sponsors Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Vance Aloupis, R-Miami. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is expected to file a Senate companion bill soon.
HB 581 states it seeks to “give students the opportunity to supplement U.S. Government education through community service and real-life problem solving.”
Under the bill, school districts would have the option to include “civic literacy projects” in their U.S. Government curriculum. The projects would require students to identify an issue or problem in their communities, research it and then develop strategies to address it.
“Students have traditionally learned civics through textbooks and class discussions,” Diamond said in a statement. “Our bill is designed to supplement that work with real-world problem solving. By applying what has been taught in the classroom to issues that exist in the real world, students gain a greater understanding of how to solve problems in their community.”
The bills fall short of requiring high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam before graduation. Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran appeared to favor such an exam when they addressed the state’s Board of Education in September, when it approved an enhanced curriculum in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and republican government, the American flag and federalism.
“Florida must rediscover the value of civics education – our founding principles are what has enabled a nation conceived in liberty to thrive,” DeSantis said. “How can we ensure that government of the people shall not perish, if we fail to provide all students with the foundational knowledge needed for properly discharging the duties of citizenship?”
“The need for expanding and improving civic learning and democratic engagement is imperative – students who have a well-rounded education will be the next leaders of our nation,” Corcoran said.
Florida is one of 31 states that offer less than a half-year of civics curriculum in high school. Ten states offer no civics curriculum at all.
Under HB 581, community service hours completed through U.S. Government class projects could be applied toward graduation as well as students’ eligibility for the Bright Futures Scholarship.
Florida is one of 23 states where credit can be given for community service. Maryland and the District of Columbia are the only states that require community service to graduate from high school.
The bill would also create a new “Freedom Schools” designation for schools that excel in “civic literacy projects.”
“Civic participation is fundamental to our American way of life, and our education system plays a central role in preparing young people to become informed and engaged citizens,” Diamond said. “This bill will help our students develop the skills they need to be active participants in the future of our communities. This bill will help our students develop the skills they need to be active participants in the future of our communities.”