Ducey presses governors on need for civics education like Arizona’s

Gov. Doug Ducey challenged his colleagues at the National Governors Association to push for civics education in their schools to address what he sees as a lack of civic engagement. (Photo by Dustin Quiroz/Cronkite News)

In 2015, Arizona became the first state to require a civics test for a high school diploma. Since then, 14 states have followed suit with another 25 weighing bills this year to add the requirement. (Photo by Dustin Quiroz/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Gov. Doug Ducey urged fellow governors this weekend to follow Arizona’s lead and implement civics requirements in schools to help improve the nation’s civic and political engagement.

“It’s cute when a 5-year-old doesn’t know who the current president is,” Ducey said Sunday at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association here. “But when 10 percent of our college graduates believe that Judge Judy sits on the Supreme Court, it’s not that funny.”

Ducey pointed to the American Civics Act, a 2015 state law that requires high school students to pass the same citizenship test of basic civics that is given as a naturalization test to immigrants. That requirement will take effect in Arizona this year, with students in the Class of 2017 the first to have to pass the test in order to get their diplomas.

“In this political environment, civic engagement is a bipartisan issue and I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the individuals that bring action to this vital cause,” Ducey said of the requirement.

The civics test is being pushed by the Scottsdale-based Civics Education Initiative, an affiliate of the Joe Foss Institute, which aims to return civics to public education. Officials behind the initiative said they are already seeing “transformative change” as a result of the effort to restore civics to the curriculum.

“From a student’s perspective, having civics on a test that matters is important, it tells them this topic is important,” said Karen Summers, a vice president at the Joe Foss Institute. “And as it relates to America, the same is true.”

-Cronkite News graphic by Arren Kimbel-Sannit. (See the full 100-question test here.)

While Arizona was the first state to require a civics test to graduate, 14 other states have since followed suit and another 25 have bills pending in their legislatures this year, according to the institute. Its goal is to have legislation similar to Arizona’s in every state by September.

Colorado is one of the 10 states that does not have a law on the books or a bill pending. But Gov. John Hickenlooper said that he thinks civics education is important, particularly given the tone of political discourse in the country now.

“If you look at all of the division and turbulence we’ve got in this country right now, a lot of it is based on the fact that people don’t understand how our political system works and how society works,” Hickenlooper said Sunday at the governors’ meeting.

While Hickenlooper agrees with Ducey on the importance of civics, he could not comment on what progress is currently being made toward a civics requirement in his state.

But Ducey urged other governors to act, and act quickly. He attributes low turnout among young voters to a lack of understanding about civics.

Ducey laid part of the blame on the states, challenging his fellow governors to take those steps toward requiring civic education that he said would help combat a disengaged younger generation.

“We expect them to do their part but I would challenge all the governors here, have we done our part?” Ducey asked.

-Cronkite News video by Anthony Marroquin