BOSTON — Beacon Hill lawmakers are weighing legislation aimed at helping make sure young people in Massachusetts have a better understanding in how the country’s political system works and their place in it.
The bill approved this week by the Massachusetts Senate is meant to strengthen the teaching of civics at a time when some on Beacon Hill and beyond worry that the ties that knit the country together are fraying.
They say one way to strengthen those ties is through education.
“This bill —An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement_we believe will fortify Massachusetts’ civic education curriculum and it will set a foundation for the next generation of leaders,” said Senate President Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat.
The bill would require schools to expand on existing requirements that American history and civics education be taught along with instruction in the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights and the proper etiquette needed to handle the U.S. flag.
The bill would add to those by also requiring instruction on the function and makeup of the branches of local, state and federal government and how the nation’s electoral process works.
The legislation also puts an emphasis of helping young people navigate an increasingly complex media environment by equipping them with the “knowledge and skills for accessing, analyzing, evaluating, and creating all types of media, including print, online, television, and social media.”
In a nod to local political history, the bill would also create an “Edward Moore Kennedy and Edward William Brooke III Civics Challenge” to encourage eighth grade students to participate in civics projects.
The challenge is named after the late Democratic and Republican senators from Massachusetts.
Some pushback to the bill came from lawmakers concerned the state is dumping more requirements on schools without additional resources.
“We are not properly funding our schools to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Sen. Bruce Tarr, of Gloucester, the Republican leader of the chamber.
Tarr said bill supporters want the state to add more educational tasks to local schools districts without addressing the state’s school funding formula, known as Chapter 70.
“Maybe this isn’t the place to solve the Chapter 70 problems, but it sure ought to be the place where we don’t make it worse,” he said.
Backers of the bill say that civics education is something schools should be expected to teach.
“Long before this debate today, we have asked and we expect and we should expect our K-12 districts to be preparing our future citizenry,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat. “Civics education was already required before this bill. We are building it out. We are making it more robust. But it’s not a new requirement.”
Another supporter of the bill is Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, who linked the push for civic education to the recent rise in activism among young people pushing for stricter gun laws.
“We’re all very impressed by the energy and passion and concern and awareness shown by the students nationwide reacting to the crisis of gun violence in our country,” Galvin said.
Galvin, a Democrat, said Massachusetts has already taken steps to help connect young people to their communities, including allowing 16-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House