Last week, the National Conference of State Legislatures kicked off its annual “America’s Legislators Back to School Program,” which began as a one-day event nearly 20 years ago but now runs for most of the academic year.
The program has legislators from across the country visiting the classroom and giving students more insight into how their government works. These visits – and field trips to places like the state capitol – help bring to life what students learn from their teachers and textbooks and better show the students the impact government decisions have on their lives.
There is clear evidence that educational programs like this are needed more than ever, and not just for our students.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, says civics scores in schools have barely budged over the past 20 years, while a national poll of more than 1,000 adults recently found that only about a third can name all three branches of government and another third cannot name any.
Here in Kentucky, we’re taking several steps to move those trends in a positive direction. Last year, for example, the General Assembly passed a law requiring students to answer at least 60 of 100 civics questions correctly to graduate.
At the postsecondary level, Northern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville have permanent departments focused on civic measures, and the Secretary of State’s office promotes civics through a variety of programs.
One area where Kentucky gets high marks is in our online portals that help the public find what it needs within state government. The General Assembly’s website (lrc.ky.gov) does a great job of publicizing legislative meetings and the progress of bills and resolutions during legislative sessions, and other websites do such things as track state spending, help businesses cut through red tape and make it easier for citizens to register to vote.
That last one can be found at govoteky.com, and it also helps citizens determine their voting location and see a sample ballot. For those who haven’t registered to vote yet but would like to, the deadline is Oct. 9th.
Overall, there are 3.3 million Kentuckians who are registered, and in 2016, which was a presidential election year, just under 60 percent of them voted. Those 62 and older had the highest participation, while those 24 and younger voted at a higher voting rate than those 25 to 34.
In 2014, the last mid-term election, our 45 percent voter turnout rate was ahead of every southern state and among the nation’s leaders.
Although not necessarily tied to our civic duties, a study the Secretary of State’s office released seven years ago noted some other positive areas where Kentuckians have developed strong social bonds. Only two states had a higher percentage of families who eat together during meals, and we ranked 21st when looking at the percentage of people who do favors for their neighbors.
Those seemingly simple things are among the building blocks that form the foundation of the life we want for ourselves and future generations. The hope is that we can build on these gains so that more people want to learn about and take part in their government, because that involvement is the only way we can be sure that our voices are heard and that we are able to achieve all that we want.
If you would like to let me know your views about this issue, or any other affecting the state, I am easy to reach. My email is [email protected], and if you would like to leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
If you are a teacher or school administrator whose students would be interested in having me visit as part of the “America’s Legislators Back to School Program,” please let me know. Kentucky has traditionally had some of the highest participation rates among the states, and I would enjoy the opportunity to take part this year.