Civics Education Carved in New Hampshire Granite

A child holds a small American flag out of a car window. The child is smiling in the reflection of the side view mirror.
A child holds a small American flag out of a car window. The child is smiling in the reflection of the side view mirror.
Written by:
Written by: Lauren Peisach
May 7, 2024

The author would like to thank Mayor Jay Kahn, Shawn Healy and Allyson Ryder for their contributions to this post.

In recent years, New Hampshire has reimagined its policy commitments to K-12 civics education. Last spring, the New Hampshire Civic Learning Coalition, convened by NH Civics, championed S.B. 216 — a bipartisan bill that requires:

  • Class time be dedicated to civics instruction in all elementary grade levels.
  • Students take a half-year civics course or equivalent civics instruction in middle school.
  • A one-year course on the history, government and constitutions of the United States and New Hampshire to graduate high school.

Co-sponsored by State Sens. Sharon Carson and Lou D’Allesandro, the legislation passed with bipartisan support and was signed by Gov. Chris Sununu in August 2023. Gov. Sununu also requested and secured $1 million in appropriations for a new civics textbook in the fiscal year 2024 state budget. NH Civics will provide free professional development programs and curricula materials this year to support implementation.

When asked why this was so important to the state, Anna Brown, New Hampshire Civic Coalition member and director of research and analysis for Citizens Count, said writing civics education into state law would likely bolster New Hampshire’s unique tradition of participatory democracy.

“Overall, New Hampshire has a lot of really important markers showing we are ahead of other states in voter participation, but there are signs of decline,” she said. Brown said teachers reported that students don’t understand the difference in local, state and federal governments, and don’t have an introductory understanding of American history.

Allyson Ryder, executive director of NH Civics, shared that this law exemplifies the changes the state can achieve when there is collective, nonpartisan support for the most critical issues facing communities, states and the nation as a whole. Speaking about the process, Ryder said that the “NH Civic Learning Coalition convenes leaders from many sectors across New Hampshire.  They came together and said we need to encourage more time for civics in our state and, with support from our lawmakers, they made this vision a reality.”

Keene Mayor Jay Kahn, a former state senator and current NH Civics trustee, sees S.B. 216 as a civics education scaffolding model for New Hampshire students. From kindergarten through eighth grade, students will acquire the knowledge and behaviors necessary to be participatory citizens. This foundation allows students to demonstrate civic engagement in their required high school civics course, campus and community.

The New Hampshire Civic Learning Coalition is a member of the CivXNow Coalition. This iCivics project supports state and federal K-12 civics education policies with a focus on geographic and viewpoint diversity. Shawn Healy, iCivics’ senior director of policy and advocacy, provided an overview of the nonpartisan CivXNow Coalition’s work in this guest post on Ed Note.

In 2023, the CivXNow policy team tracked 131 bills in 38 states impacting civics education. Seventy-six of these bills aligned with the CivXNow state policy menu. This New Hampshire law and recent action in other states, signals an appetite among policymakers for additional reforms in all states regardless of partisan affiliation.

Since 2021, 22 states adopted policies aligning with CivXNow’s policy priorities. The organization’s top policy consideration is for states to provide universal, equitable access to K-12 civics learning opportunities. S.B. 216 carves this plank in New Hampshire’s characteristic granite. 

Author profile

Lauren Peisach

Lauren Peisach

Policy Researcher at Education Commission of the States | Website

As a policy researcher, Lauren provides quality research on a variety of education topics. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Lauren earned a master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan. Before attending graduate school, Lauren spent four years teaching and three years working with a community-based neighborhood center in Denver. Lauren strongly believes in the importance of creating education policies that allow all children to excel.

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