Student voice in civic education: LB225 testimony

On Jan. 23, 2023, Civic Nebraska testified before the Education Committee of the Nebraska Legislature in support of Legislative Bill 225. Here's our testimony.

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“My name is Heidi Uhing, and I’m the public policy director for Civic Nebraska. I’ll provide testimony in support of LB225, which will provide two new civic engagement opportunities for Nebraska’s high school students.

Heidi Uhing, Civic Nebraska’s director of public policy

“First, it would allow a student representative on each school district’s committee on American civics. This committee meets twice annually to ensure that civics curriculum stresses the services of the men and women who played a crucial role in the achievement of national independence, the establishment of our constitutional government, and the preservation of the union, in order to instill pride and respect for the nation’s institutions and not be merely a recital of events and dates.

“We know of no civics committee that includes a student representative currently. State statute does, however, allow Class III and Class IV schools’ boards to include at least one nonvoting student member, who serves a term of one year. This student must be elected by the entire student body, like the student council president. They are able to attend all open meetings of the board but are excluded from executive sessions. 

“According to the National School Boards Association, at least 31 states can similarly choose to have student board representatives. But just 14 percent of the country’s 495 largest districts actually have student members. 

“This bill is part of a national trend to broaden students’ opportunities to be represented by the boards and committees that make decisions about their education. We know that real-life opportunities for young people to engage with their government make for more civically engaged adults. 

“Having students on school committees and boards also provides an important diversity of experience for the adults serving on those boards. It’s a direct line of communication for board and committee members to hear about students’ experiences of learning in their school.

“The additional provisions of LB225 would allow students to serve as poll workers on election day. This would expand an existing list of civic activities that students can choose from to fulfill their civic education requirements. This may otherwise be met by attending a meeting of a public body and writing a paper on it, writing a paper on a person commemorated by a holiday, or passing the civics portion of the U.S. citizenship test. 

“At least 15 other states have programs to provide poll working opportunities for students. We think Nebraska students should have this opportunity as well. 

“Some of us look back to our time in high school and can’t imagine having an interest in these types of activities at that age. But for those students who do — the ones who are running for student government and going to summer camps that simulate the legislative process — these opportunities are meaningful. They can foster and shape a person’s interest by providing important background and perspective as students decide which career to pursue. 

“We understand the value of offering civic engagement opportunities in our schools, both in students’ short-term education and in their long-term perspective on how they’ll engage with their government as adults. We understand that schools face certain realities in terms of graduation requirements, workforce needs, and time constraints. But if we’re going to be serious about fostering experiential civic education in Nebraska, students need to have options and be present for those discussions. 

“Some enlightened Nebraska schools are voluntarily offering these opportunities, so we know it can be done. We need to make these opportunities the norm. If schools aren’t required to do so, these activities won’t be a priority.

“Thanks for your consideration.”

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Locations

After School Programs

  • Sherman Elementary School

    5618 N 14th Ave.
    Omaha, NE 68110

  • Lewis and Clark Middle School

    6901 Burt St.
    Omaha, NE 68132

  • Lothrop Magnet Elementary

    3300 N. 22nd St.
    Omaha, NE 68110

  • Campbell Elementary School

    2200 Dodge St.
    Lincoln, NE 68521

  • Lincoln High School

    2229 J St.
    Lincoln, NE 68510

  • Lincoln Northeast High School

    2635 N. 63rd St.
    Lincoln, NE 68507