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Illinois Civics Bill Heads to Governor's Desk

The Illinois Senate has approved legislation requiring that students take a civics course to graduate from high school. The bill, HB 4025, now goes to the governor for a signature.

The proposed legislation, which passed with strong bipartisan support May 30, aims to ensure students leave high school knowing how to be informed and engaged citizens, according to a news release from the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, a consortium of educators, administrators, students, universities, funders, and policymakers. The coalition is part of a national civics advocacy campaign. "The proposed legislation will help fill this civic education gap, and bring civics back to all our schools," states the coalition.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Deb Conroy and Sen. Tom Cullerton, both Democrats from Villa Park, and is based on recommendations of the Illinois Task Force on Civic Education. That group was established by the General Assembly and held hearings on the issue throughout the state last year. 

If signed by the governor, the legislation would take effect for the 2016-17 school year.

Currently, Illinois requires that high school students successfully complete two years of social studies. One year must be U.S. history, or a combination of U.S. history and American government. Although many Illinois high schools do require that students take a civics course, the state currently doesn't mandate it. HB 4025 would specify that one semester of those two years must be dedicated to civics.

Schools will be getting some financial help to get things started. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, and other business and civic organizations around the state have pledged at least $1 million annually for three years for teacher training.

There has been a lot of action around civics education lately. Last week, I wrote about Georgia joining the bandwagon of states that are rewriting their social studies curricula to include a greater emphasis on civics education. Illinois is among them. It's using the National Council for the Social Studies' C3 (College, Career, and Civic Life) framework as a guide.

There is also a movement among states to require that students take a citizenship test to graduate—the same test taken by immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens.

The Illinois legislation doesn't specifically add any testing requirements, it just says students must "successfully complete" the course.

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