by Dr. Shawn Healy, Civic Learning Scholar, McCormick Foundation / Chair, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition

Civics is back in Illinois in 2016! The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, convened by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, is set to launch a statewide system of supports for teachers, schools, and districts in order to implement a brand-new high school civics course requirement.

Our #CivicsIsBack campaign will disseminate information on the new law, speak to the importance and impact of high-quality civic learning, provide professional development and ongoing mentorship for teachers on proven civic learning practices, and make available a menu of online resources through this brand new web portal: IllinoisCivics.org.

We’ll speak to each of these component parts in the posts that follow, but let’s begin with the basics of the new law.

On August 21, 2015, Governor Rauner signed House Bill (HB) 4025 (Pubic Act 99-0434) into law, requiring that future Illinois high school students complete a stand-alone, semester-long civics course. Course content must include instruction on government institutions, current and controversial issues discussions, service-learning, and simulations of democratic processes.

A separate bill (HB 800) passed by the Illinois General Assembly and signed by Governor Rauner provides further clarity on HB 4025’s effective date. The course mandate takes effect on July 1, 2016, and applies to incoming freshmen for the 2016-2017 school year.

Based upon our research, 60% of Illinois public high schools currently require at least one semester of civics and/ or government in order to graduate. An additional 27% of high schools offer (but do not require) a course that can be categorized as civics or government. The final 13% of schools either have no existing course or their curricular offerings in this subject area are unknown.

We have a great deal of work to do as teachers, schools, and districts ensure current course offerings are compliant with the new law, convert elective courses to required ones, and in some cases, build civics courses from the ground up.

With your help, we will provide transformational civic learning experiences for Illinois students, placing them on a path for lifelong participation in our democracy.

Civics is back in Illinois, and its here to stay.

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