By Marilyn Odendahl

Starting in the fall of 2025, Indiana students entering high school will be able to earn special recognition for demonstrating a knowledge of civics and a commitment to civic engagement.


Senate Bill 211, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, mandates that the Indiana Department of Education establish the excellence in civic engagement designation. The designation will be attached to transcripts of graduating students who have successfully met the new criteria, beginning with the Class of 2029.


The bill was passed by the Indiana General Assembly on March 8 and is headed to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.


The Indiana Bar Foundation, a longtime champion of civic education, applauded the passage of SB 211.


Among its civics programming, the Bar Foundation oversees the We the People program, which uses simulated congressional hearings to teach Indiana elementary, middle and high school students about American constitutional democracy. Also, the foundation developed a civics curriculum for sixth-grade students and offered it free of charge for educators to use to teach the new civic education requirement. Most recently, it co-sponsored the new 40th edition of the “Here is Your Indiana Government” resource book to help Hoosier educators teach civic courses.


“This Excellence in Civic Engagement designation will shine a spotlight on those who are participating in robust civic learning and engagement to improve Indiana’s civic health and be more knowledgeable in civics,” Charles Dunlap, president and CEO of the Indiana Bar Foundation, said in a statement. “This legislation came from a lot of good work by many partners, and we’re excited to continue improving civic education across Indiana.”


Under the bill, the IDOE can consider several factors when developing criteria for the excellence in civic engagement designation. The criteria can include volunteering, participating in a community or state project, and completing coursework about civil society, constitutional government and the democratic process.


SB 211 also calls on the Education Department to develop recommendations for creating an excellence in civic education standard for schools. Qualifying schools would have to demonstrate a “rigorous commitment” to teaching students about civil society, constitutional government and the democratic process and would have a “significant number of students” earning the excellence in civic engagement designation on their transcripts.


Introduced at the start of the 2024 legislative session, the bill became a civics lesson in law making as it moved through the Indiana Statehouse.


Originally, SB 211 required the IDOE to establish a civics seal program. This program would have awarded a special seal to students, teachers and schools that had demonstrated a proficiency in civics. The bill also included a provision that would have pushed the start date for collective bargaining between schools and teachers to Oct. 1.


In the House, more provisions were loaded onto SB 211.  The new language subjected charter schools and charter school corporations to public access laws, enabled schools to teach internet safety, and allowed schools to remove disruptive students from the classroom.


When the SB 211 was sent to conference committee, all those adds-ons were tossed. Also, the civic proficiency designation was replaced with the language establishing an excellence in civic engagement designation for students and schools.


The pared-down bill passed the Senate and House on the last day of the 2024 session.


The Bar Foundation said it was “extremely thankful” for the leadership of Republican Reps. Chuck Goodrich of Noblesville, Elizabeth Rowray of Yorktown and Robert Behning of Indianapolis, along with Raatz, for championing the bill. The foundation also thanked Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner for her work in advancing civic education.


Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.



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