Our country’s founders understood that public education is essential to the continued success of our representative democracy. Voting and protection of individual rights are dependent on educated and engaged citizens.

The 2017 Montana Legislature overwhelmingly supported Senate Bill 242, which encourages Montana public high schools to administer the U.S. Civics Test to students. Ninety-seven percent of immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship pass this test the first time. Yet in surveys, 35 percent of Americans can't name one branch of our federal government. 

Free, online study and teaching guides can help Montana public schools offer civics education. The U.S. Civics Test materials can be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website: https://www.uscis.gov/citizenship/learners/study-test/study-materials-civics-test. Ultimately, students will think more deeply about our history and their civic responsibilities by participating in this exam. Examples of test questions include:

• What is one purpose of the U.S. Constitution?

• What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?

• What is a right or freedom from the First Amendment?

• What was the purpose of the Declaration of Independence?

In 2016, 58 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the US presidential election. Only 50 percent of eligible 18-to-29-year-old Americans voted that year. Engaging a knowledgeable young electorate is important.

This year, our nation is celebrating the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. During National Constitution Week, Sept. 17-23, Montana public schools are encouraged to promote civics education.

This new Montana law also encourages the Montana Office of Public Instruction to recognize school efforts in implementing successful citizenship programs. Montana has the opportunity to be a national leader in preparing the next generation of educated and engaged citizens. We are excited that Montana will increase civics education for all of our students. We have a precious democracy to defend and together Montanans will do it!

Sue Malek, sponsor of SB 242

Senate District 46-Missoula

Elsie Arntzen

State Superintendent