ST. PAUL – With more than half of the House co-authoring his bill and an ever-growing list of stakeholders on board, this could be the year Rep. Dean Urdahl passes legislation to address a “crisis” of civics knowledge in Minnesota.
The bill (S.F. 294/ H.F. 249) requires juniors or seniors to take a for-credit civics class as part of the 3.5 social studies credits required in Minnesota high schools. The Minnesota Department of Education will begin collecting data from an already required 50-question civics test that Minnesota students take between grades seven and 12. While passage of the exam is not a graduation standard, the test data will help assess civics knowledge in our state.
“Knowledge of our state and federal governments has eroded to crisis levels as other subject areas have received increased emphasis in our schools,” Urdahl said. “The unintended consequences are damaging to our society, with a significant percentage of our population failing to have even a basic understanding of our how our government functions. This bill would restore civics as an important component in our educational system and the data we collect would be instrumental in analyzing the situation.”
A report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows less than 30 percent of students were proficient in civics, and a significant gap persists among racial and ethnic groups.
“There is a great deal of inconsistency in how our schools prioritize civics and that patchwork approach has left significant learning gaps across Minnesota,” Urdahl said. “It just isn’t working and we are failing our younger generations. This bill would restore civics as an important component in our educational system and, hopefully, lead to greater, more engaged participation in democracy.”
Urdahl is a former history teacher of more than three decades and has been working to re-emphasize civics in our state’s schools. He has authored previous iterations of this year’s legislation, including a bill which passed the Legislature in 2018, only to be derailed by Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of an omnibus package. He authored the 2016 House language which requires the 50-question civics test to be administered.
In a remarkable display of bipartisan support, 68 of the House’s 134 members have signed on as co-authors of Urdahl’s bill, which received its first hearing in that body Tuesday. Senate E-12 Education Committee Chair Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, has authored the companion bill and recently conducted a hearing for it.
“This level of support for a bill from fellow members is rare and, along with such strong support from stakeholders, I am cautiously optimistic we can bring this bill across the finish line,” Urdahl said. “That would be a good day for Minnesota.”