Civics Ed Took Center Stage at Utah Legislative Session
One big take-away from Utah Legislature’s 45-day session, ended last week: Interest in civic education on the part of lawmakers is at an all time high. HB 124 was originally drafted to change the start date for the civics engagement pilot project that passed last year but whose funding was rescinded due to COVID-19. As the session moved on, HB 124 was substituted with a bill that made minor changes to the code for the basic civics test graduation requirement. Instead Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Johnson asked for an appropriation to fund the pilot, however the funding was not approved. Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Johnson is disappointed, but not defeated. "We are getting other things in place like HCR 15 that will help us kindle the unprecedented interest in civics education, for all grade levels, and for all worthy initiatives, including HB124.” HB327 (Rep. Jefferson Burton) Establishes a new Civic Thought and Leadership initiative designed to facilitate political discussion and provide civic education and research within Utah Valley University's Center for Constitutional Studies. The bill passed with a $1 million appropriation intended to leverage other funding sources. HCR 15 Concurrent Resolution Emphasizing the Importance of Civics Education (Rep. Lowry Snow) recognizes the critical role of civics education in preparing students for civic life, especially in these times of increasing political polarization, and calls for a review of the ways civics is taught in Utah schools. HB338 School District Voter Eligibility Amendments (Rep. Joel Briscoe) This bill would have given local school boards the option to allow eligible students aged 16 and 17 years old to vote in local school board elections. The bill failed in the House 50-22. It was a learning year for the bill's champion, 17-year old West High student Dhati Ooomen: "This is just the beginning, and neither I, nor any of the students I represent, will stop here. Utah has the incredible opportunity to lead the way for the rest of the world in active and meaningful civic engagement. I will keep going until the day Utah youth has a chance to weigh in on who represents their educational needs."