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State Sen. Troy Singleton. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Singleton bill would require civics education at universities

By Nikita Biryukov, May 10 2021 12:33 pm

A Democratic state senator wants to require New Jersey’s public colleges and universities to teach students about their government in a bid to expand civic participation.

State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Delran) last week introduced a bill that would require students at public universities to complete at least one course of American government and civic engagement before graduating.

“It’s just a natural extension of the work we’ve done to try and enhance civic education to make sure that we are arming our citizens with the knowledge base that they need to be better-informed and engaged civic participants,” Singleton told the New Jersey Globe.

Both community colleges and state schools would be subject to the requirement, though that may change during the bill drafting process, Singleton said.

If passed, the legislation would go into effect during the 2022-2023 school year, giving university officials more than a year to develop the courses. It likely won’t affect already matriculating students, as changes to graduation requirements are usually not applied retroactive to their enactment.

Singleton is hoping the new requirement can be implemented using existing courses, and he isn’t expecting the bill to come with a price tag.

“We don’t anticipate that to be a huge financial lift,” he said. “But that being said, as we go through this process, if it’s presented to us that there’s a cost that will be associated with doing this, whether that’s different types of texts that need to be done or need to restructure the internal budgets that they get for such things, then obviously we’ll have an open mind to looking at it.”

The new legislation follows the introduction of a bill creating similar requirements civics education in middle schools earlier this year.

That measure would require at least two quarters of civics instruction in the state’s middle schools and would make Rutgers University’s New Jersey Center for Civics Education responsible for drafting the curricula.

Unlike the Singleton bill, that measure makes a $300,000 annual appropriation the center. The older bill cleared the Senate in January and was approved by the Assembly Education Committee in March, in both cases with bipartisan support.

It’s been waiting for a vote before the lower chamber’s budget committee since then, though there may not be much to the delay past the legislature’s focus on budget hearings in April and early May.

“The Speaker is considering the bill for an upcoming committee hearing,” said Kevin McArdle, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “Civics is an essential subject matter for our state’s students.”

Though that legislation hasn’t faced any opposition, Singleton was still wary over the possibility of partisan resistance against the new bill.

“The issue that often comes up is whether or not we’re trying to create a specific sort of political ideology within the construct of civics education,” he said. “I’m always saying this when people bring that up: I don’t believe that is the place to try and frame someone’s ideology.”

Nationally, conservative commentators have often singled out universities for criticism, charging they were breeding grounds for liberal thought, but the senator said that isn’t the goal here.

“For me, it’s not about ideology,” Singleton said. “It’s about making sure we have a more informed citizenry that’ll be able to make the best decisions for all of us moving forward.”

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