Senator Leyva’s “Students Civic Engagement Act” Advances to Assembly

SB 955 Allows One Excused Absence for Middle and High School Students to Participate in a Civic Activity

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

SACRAMENTO – Highlighting the need to get more students involved in government and their

community by prioritizing student opportunities for civic learning and engagement, the California State Senate approved Senate Bill 955 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, permitted protesting, candidate speeches, political or civic forums, and town halls.

“SB 955 prioritizes civic learning and engagement for students, including outside the classroom and in the community,” Senator Leyva said. “Our democracy depends on the ability of our future leaders to become more civically engaged today, as they can gain a better understanding of how their involvement can help to change the world around them.  It is vital that young people learn the importance of the civic and democratic process while they are still school, so that they are able to build on that knowledge when they finish their schooling and begin their lives in communities across our state and nation.  I thank the two sponsors of SB 955—California Student Board Member Association and GENup—for their leadership and commitment to empowering young people by strengthening and uplifting student voices.”

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, we must ensure that young people in California 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 all youth for democratic participation is leaving a significant number of young people behind.  To address these disparities, SB 955 reemphasizes the importance and need for student civic engagement.

SB 955 will now proceed to the California State Assembly for consideration.