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Constitution Revision Commission advances proposal to require civic literacy in public education

Sponsor Don Gaetz says Floridians need to understand their responsibilities as citizens.

Saying Floridians are woefully unknowledgeable about civics and how government works, the Constitution Revision Commission advanced a proposal that would amend the state constitution to require public education to prepare students to participate in the system.

The one sentence item would add to Article IX this language: "As education is essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the legislature shall provide by law for the promotion of civic literacy in order to ensure that students enrolled in public education understand and are prepared to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a constitutional democracy."

Sponsor Don Gaetz, a former state Senate president, acknowledged that Florida already has a civic education requirement and test, which are helping improve children's understanding of the issues that undergird the nation and state.

But he argued that the knowledge needs to be permanent value, to allow Florida's system of governance to continue, and not subject to the whims of lawmakers.

"The Legislature changes its mind," Gaetz said. "Especially education issues go in and out of fashion. … The constitution enshrines what we don't change our minds about."

No one on the commission questioned the importance of civic education. A handful raised concerns about who will teach the lessons, and what information will be provided.

Gaetz responded that the measure should not address the specifics. It does not even mandate a course or a specific curriculum, he noted, saying that would not belong in the constitution. It simply advances a core value, he said.

More members fretted about sending yet another proposal to the commission's Style and Drafting committee for polishing before a final vote. More than a dozen ideas already were before the committee, and "if we have too many proposals … it will be overwhelming to the voters come November," observed education commissioner Pam Stewart, who also serves on the CRC.

Gaetz said he believed this idea belonged in a grouping along with other education proposals, and not as a stand-alone amendment on the ballot. He said if it doesn't fit anywhere else, he will move to strike the proposal.

With that the commission voted 25-7 to advance the item. It still requires final approval by the commission in April, before it could head to the November ballot.

Past coverage: Panel moves to enshrine civic literacy in Florida's constitution