We were pleased to see last week that Illinois lawmakers had sent Gov. J.B. Pritzker a pair of good government bills that merit his signature.
The two unrelated but important bipartisan bills are:
-- HB2265, which would require Illinois middle schools to create and include a much-needed unit on civics education. The class would be created by educators and funded by private donations.
-- HB348, which would give township voters, via referendum, the power to dissolve township governments in McHenry County, but has the potential to be expanded to include other communities in this government-heavy state.
While the two bills do not, on their face, appear to have much in common, both present opportunities to improve Illinois government and the body politic.
Quality civic education in our schools, for example, is an essential building block of a healthy democracy and an engaged and thriving state and nation.
For us, the central question regarding whether to include civic education is this: How can our children become good citizens and choose good leaders to represent our nation if they do not know what it is that makes our nation a great one?
Countless studies and surveys show the terrible consequences when schools no longer teach children about government and good citizenship.
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Those same studies also show that civic education works best when it begins -- with age-appropriate lessons, of course -- just as soon as children begin going to school. Like many researchers, we, too, believe civic education should continue throughout a student's entire K-12 experience.
Sadly, during the last decade, most schools across the nation, including here in Illinois, trimmed these essential lessons entirely from the public school curriculum. So when Illinois created a pilot program to put civic education in high school classrooms a few years ago, we embraced it as a welcome first step.
The new middle-school bill, which we support, takes another important step by establishing a semester-long civics course for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation has pledged $3 million to finance the cost of incorporating the course into the curriculum, thus ensuring that the new class is not another unfunded mandate that local communities cannot afford.
State Rep. Dave McSweeney's township consolidation bill also was conceived as pilot program that could later be expanded to improve Illinois government. He argues, persuasively, that townships are a good place to begin looking at either elimination or consolidating government functions.
The Barrington Republican knows what he's up against in trying to cut back on township governments in a state that boasts more government units than anywhere else in the nation. Townships are an especially tough nut to crack. Even talking about finding ways to cooperate to provide local government services more cheaply is guaranteed to bring angry township officials out in droves, with guns blazing, as Henry County leaders have discovered.
That makes approval of this bill all the more impressive, since it is the second time a measure like it will make its way to the governor's desk. A similar bill was approved by lawmakers during Gov. Bruce Rauner's tenure. But the GOP governor wouldn't sign it because it didn't apply to the whole state. We, too, believe that voters everywhere in Illinois should have the power to determine how they are governed. But a statewide measure faced far more difficult odds. Besides as this middle-schools civics bill shows, there is merit in making big changes incrementally.
We trust the governor, too, will see the merits and reach for his pen.