By: Molly Launceford

As part of the December 2022 omnibus bill, Congress appropriated $23 million dollars toward civic and history education. This more than triples the annual spending of previous years and is the first major increase in federal funding of civic education in quite some time. What does this mean for states?

Education is an area of state control. States provide direct funding to their public schools, as well as structure for funding at the local level. However, the federal government also provides some funding. Arizona K-12 public schools, for example, receive 48% of their funding from the state. 40% comes from local revenue from property taxes, and 12% comes from the federal government. (The federal percentage is higher in Arizona than in nearly every other state because Arizona has some of the most underfunded schools in the nation, ranking 48th in state funding of K-12 schools).

Though federal dollars do not make up the majority of school funding, they are still a significant amount of money, and they have strings attached. Under the United States Constitution, there is no right to education. The right to education is one that is guaranteed by most state constitutions, including Arizona’s. The federal government has no constitutional mandate to provide education funding, and it conditions its funding to states on their agreement to provide certain services, programs, and curriculum. These include accommodations for learning disabilities, language services for English Language Learners, and focus curriculum areas, like STEM. The federal government spends approximately $50 per student per year on STEM subjects. Conversely, the federal government spends approximately $0.05 per student per year on civics.

Nearly 80% of voters believe that civic education is important. It was the number one solution chosen by both Democrat and Republican voters for strengthening our national common identity. It is an issue with bipartisan support by voters and political leaders. That said, civic education has been the subject of much debate and tension in recent years, with people arguing over the concepts of “patriotic education” and Critical Race Theory. People may disagree about what specifically should be taught, but people recognize that something should be taught.

The federal funding included in the year-end omnibus bill is available for institutions that use evidence-based practices including classroom instruction in civics, government, and history; community service tied to classroom instruction; simulations of democratic processes; student voice in school governance; and media literacy. To receive the funding, states must show standards and programs in place that follow these practices. Many states already have some elements of these practices in their state standards. For example, around half of states have a service learning credit that would qualify them for funding as community service tied to classroom instruction. However only about a third of states require some form of media literacy. 

Providing this great increase in funding encourages states without those requirements to incorporate them into their standards. It still leaves plenty of control to the states to specify exactly what students will be taught, while encouraging states to make moves forward in this subject.

Molly is a 2L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Her legal interests include criminal justice reform and the impact of the criminal justice system on children. Outside of law school, Molly enjoys cooking, short stories, strong coffee, and playing pickleball.