Panel moves to enshrine civic literacy in Florida’s constitution

Members don't want to see civics education treated like Algebra II or physical education.
Published Feb. 1, 2018|Updated Feb. 2, 2018

Florida public school students are required to take a civics course in middle school, with the state's exam counting as 30 percent of their grade.

It's critical, leaders say, to ensuring that Floridians better understand their rights and responsibilities in the state and nation — knowledge that surveys have shown is sorely lacking among many.

Former state Senate president Don Gaetz wants to make sure the role of civic literacy in public education doesn't become a passing fad. So he has proposed enshrining it in the state's constitution.

"Civic literacy is a value for all other parts of our constitution to actively work," Gaetz told the Constitution Revision Commission Education Committee on Thursday, as the panel considered his proposal.

He faced some pushback, as some members questioned why civics should be the only subject area included in the constitution. What would stop a future drive to add math, music or some other topic, they wondered.

Gaetz stressed that he did not see civic literacy as a subject area, and he was not trying to mandate a curriculum or teaching approach in the constitution. At the same time, though, he contended the issue is fundamental for children to know their role as citizens, and schools are a place to make sure that happens.

Education commissioner Pam Stewart, who sits on the Education Committee, said she was conflicted with the recommendation. On the one hand, she said, she is not sure it belongs in the constitution.

On the other, she has seen lawmakers shift positions on the importance of Algebra II, physical education, career education, science instruction and other topics over time. And civic knowledge is key to good citizenship, she acknowledged.

Stewart ultimately backed the proposal. Commissioner Darlene Jordan did not.

Jordan raised concerns about singling out civic literacy while not mentioning basic literacy, which she contended is more critical. She also worried about how this section could be interpreted in the future.

"Is it opening doors that we didn't anticipate?" she asked.

Gaetz said he was open to amending his proposal to address the questions raised about intent, wording and more as it heads to the full Commission for its consideration.

The Education Committee also voted down a proposal to change the language on Floridians' basic rights to say no one would be deprived their rights because of "any" disability, rather than the current "physical" disability.

Members said they did not want to make the constitution vague in its defining what "disability" means.