SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 955, a bill by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) requiring middle and high school students (6th – 12th grade) to be allowed one excused school-day length absence to participate in a civic activity such as public commenting, candidate speeches, political or civic forums, and town halls.
“As the future of our state will be largely guided by young people still in school today, it is vital that we get California students more civically involved in government and their community,” Senator Leyva said. “SB 955 prioritizes student opportunities for civic learning and engagement and will help them gain a better understanding of how their involvement can help to change and improve the world around them. I thank the Governor for signing SB 955 and look forward to our future leaders stepping up in the years and decades ahead so we can continue to move California in a positive direction.”
According to Tufts University data, only 37 percent of California voting-eligible young people ages 18-29 cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, though this number increased to 54 percent in 2020. In order to continue to see this increase, California must ensure that young people in the state are learning the importance of active civic engagement beginning in grade school and continuing into middle and high school.
Unfortunately, educational priorities in K-12 schools oftentimes severely limit the time available for civics instruction. When civics is taught, high-quality learning practices associated with ongoing civic engagement are distributed inequitably.
For example, youth in Advanced Placement (AP) classes, in predominantly white districts and in families with parents who have a college education, are more likely to receive the best civic education. As a result, the institution best positioned to reach and prepare youth for democratic participation is leaving a significant number of young people behind.
To address these disparities, SB 955 affirms the importance and need for student civic engagement.
Sponsored by the California Student Board Member Association and GENup, the “Student Civic Engagement Act” is supported by AFSCME, California High School Democrats, California Labor Federation / AFL-CIO, National Association of Social Workers / California Chapter, and Improve Your Tomorrow.