Sen. Cwodzinski pens bill mandating high school civics courses

Steve Cwodzinski
Steve Cwodzinski
Each Minnesota state legislator brings a unique set of experiences and proficiencies to St. Paul, and it’s not uncommon for a lawmaker to focus on what they know best.

In keeping with that, District 48 State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie) introduced a bill very much in his wheelhouse. The measure, which came before the Education Policy Committee and sent back for revisions, would mandate that all state public schools students take a certain number of credits in classes that teach civics.

Before embarking on his freshman term in the Senate, Cwodzinski taught primarily American government courses at Eden Prairie High School for more than three decades. He gleaned from that experience how valuable civics courses can be for high school students – particularly juniors and seniors.

“I don’t think ninth or 10th grade is an appropriate level to have an American government class,” said Cwodzinski. “Once you’re a junior in high school and you start realizing you have an investment in democracy – you might have a job, or be applying for college – now it’s time to require a government class, to prepare them for the responsibility of voting.”

Some schools already require some amount of civics education, including Eden Prairie High School. Cwodzinski recalled when that requirement was added and the difference it made.

“You just saw the difference in their demeanor,” said Cwodzinski. “I was very pleasantly surprised over the years.”

He noted that his bill was not only drawn from that personal experience, but suggested that fell well in line with the state’s constitutional clause regarding education, most notably article 13.

The first section of that article, titled “uniform system of public schools,” reads, “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.”

The whole point of civics classes, said Cwodzinski, follows that form.

“It just seems to me, when they wrote those words, the intent was that the one class you should require is civics,” said Cwodzinski.

The version of the bill Cwodzinski presented this session hit a roadblock in committee regarding how credits are defined, particularly via state statute.

“The reason it failed in committee – we got hung up on, ‘What is a credit?’” said Cwodzinski. “The language behind what a credit is, in statute, is fairly vague. I’m speculating that that’s why it failed.”

Cwodzinski said he plans to reintroduce the bill with some refinements on that end, next session. He predicted that it had a solid chance of getting further with those kinks worked out.
“It wasn’t voted down [in committee],” noted Cwodzinski. “The chair was pretty friendly toward it, except for that credit language, so he laid it over. It died a friendly death.”

Other items of business

Both houses of the Legislature approved a bill meant to counteract Federal Communications Commission rules rolled back by Congress.

The state bill prevents internet service providers from selling customers’ browser history and other information without express written consent. It passed the state Senate with only one senator, David Osmek (R-Mound), voting against the protections.

“When we use our cellphones and computers, there’s an expectation of privacy,” said Cwodzinski. “Comcast and whatnot shouldn’t sell that information.”

As for other upcoming bills, Cwodzinski pointed out a bright spot that surprised him in the omnibus education bill, which will require teachers to undergo a short course in suicide prevention training to obtain licensure or renew their licenses.

“As teachers, we have to go through a lot of hoops that we bemoan to get our license renewed,” said Cwodzinski. “But that’s a mandate that might save lives.”

He spoke further on the importance of focusing on mental health in the state’s schools.

He said he intended to keep working on ways to aid in that fight via the Legislature.

“We’re dropping the ball, I think, on mental health,” said Cwodzinski. “We’ve got a lot of mental health and drug dependency issues.”

Contact Sean Miner at sean.miner@ecm-inc.com.