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Senators Eye Changes to Federal History and Civics Grants

Two senators have introduced a bill that would make a small change to the $1.8 million American History and Civics Education program grants.

Under the change, grant recipients under the program—typically universities or nonprofits—would need to "include programs that educate students about the history and principles of the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights." The bill is sponsored by Sens. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, and Angus King, an Independent from Maine. 

That requirement was not in the original version of the program, authorized by the 2015 rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law replaced a former longstanding program focused more specifically on history teaching.

This may seem like a small change in focus, but there are a few reasons why it warrants attention. First, it's reflective of what appears to be a general interest in boosting civics education. There has been a spate of state-level action on this front: Massachusetts recently became the first state to require "action civics" projects as part of grades 8-12 coursework, while Washington state and Illinois both recently passed legislation requiring all students to take a half-semester civics course before graduation.

That's on top of more than a dozen states that now mandate that high school students take the U.S. citizenship exam at some point

The focus on the Constitution is interesting, possibly reflecting a more specific concern about Americans' generally lousy knowledge of this document. It's also notable because the federal government has generally been wary about putting in any requirements in grant programs that get close to specific content, since there are firm prohibitions on the federal endorsement or prescription of specific curriculum. (Longtime EdWeek readers will remember the shakeup last decade over the Reading First program, which critics said got perilously close to the line).

In all, it's yet another sign that interest in K-12 civics education is growing. 

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