Gov. Murphy signs legislation to expand civics instruction in schools


Gov. Phil Murphy has signed legislation (S-854) requiring civics instruction at the middle school level into law. Currently, New Jersey is one of a minority of states which does not require civics instruction for middle school students.

Under the legislation, the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers University will be directed to prepare civics curriculum guidelines for local school boards, ensuring that middle school and high school students study the values and principles underlying the American system of constitutional democracy, the function of government, and the role of a citizen in a democratic society, according to a press release from Murphy’s office.

The bill also directs the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers University to provide professional development and other resources for high school social studies teachers as they fulfill the requirement of integrating civics into the existing United States history course. Under the bill, beginning in the 2022-23 school year, each board of education is required to provide a course of study in civics at the appropriate grade level, according to the press release.

The legislation is known as Laura Wooten’s Law in honor of the longest continuously serving poll worker in American history. Wooten worked at election polls in New Jersey for 79 years before passing away in 2019.

“By deepening civics instruction in middle school and high school, we are giving students the tools they need to be more engaged and informed citizens,” Murphy said. “An understanding of civics strengthens our democracy by ensuring an understanding of the role that everyone plays in the future of their community, our state and our nation. I am proud to sign this bill into law and honor Laura Wooten’s incredible civic legacy.”

“While civics has been a key element of our state’s learning standards for decades, this new law greatly increases the focus and attention schools will place on civics instruction,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education. “The additional instruction students will receive will ultimately lead to a well-informed and well-rounded citizenry.”

“I think we all appreciate how critical teaching civics is to the continuation of our democracy,” said Arlene Gardner, president of the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers University. “This new requirement for a civics course in New Jersey middle schools is a well thought-out and carefully considered effort to address an educational and citizenship need.

“As president of the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers University, I am both humbled and proud to be able to help in the implementation of this new course and in bringing New Jersey to the forefront of re-imaging civic learning for the 21st century,” Gardner said.