State Politics

Better civics lessons needed in Florida schools, Miami lawmaker says

Miami Republican lawmaker and Florida House education committee chairman Michael Bileca — joined by Hialeah Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., right — speaks during a luncheon at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017, in honor of National School Choice Week.
Miami Republican lawmaker and Florida House education committee chairman Michael Bileca — joined by Hialeah Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., right — speaks during a luncheon at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla. on Jan. 26, 2017, in honor of National School Choice Week. kclark@miamiherald.com

Florida lawmakers could propose some changes this year in how public schools educate students about American government, history and the democratic system.

Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, the House Education Committee chairman, says the issue is “near and dear” to him, and his primary goal is to streamline civics education so it runs from elementary school through college.

“It’s a conversation you’ll hear a lot in the House,” he said while speaking at a luncheon at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee last week.

No specific policy has been presented yet, but Bileca said: “It’s something that we’re really looking at — our civics, our history — all the way from K-12 to our college system, on how do we really inculcate a sense of civic understanding, appreciation for our institutions and what a republic stands for and have a fully informed and fully educated citizenry that’s able to participate in the democratic process.”

Florida already requires civics classes for middle- and high-schoolers.

High school students need three credits in social studies in order to graduate. Those include mandatory courses in U.S. and world history, economics and U.S. government.

And in order to advance to high school, students in middle school need to complete “at least a one-semester civics education course that includes the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments; the structures and functions of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; and the meaning and significance of historic documents, such as the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States.” That requirement was enacted just a few years ago.

But Bileca said he’s looking for more “continuity of the importance of civics and understanding of history” across all grades.

“Something to look at there is the focus on history and civics and the foundational documents — the Declaration of Independence, understanding the Constitution, the importance of separation of powers,” he said. “These are good, basic frameworks and pillars of democracy that we want our kids by college and high school to be able to critically think about. ... Right now we’re asking them to critically think about these systems of government that they know nothing about.”

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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