Minnesota students would be required to take courses on ethnic studies, personal finance and government and citizenship under bills being considered by the state Legislature.
The House Education Policy Committee on Tuesday approved bills to make ethnic studies and personal finance classes a high school graduation requirement, moving those two forward in the chamber. The committee set aside the bill requiring a government and citizenship class to possibly be folded into a larger education bill.
"Students of all racial and ethnic identities benefit from ethnic studies," said state Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura, DFL-Minneapolis, the bill's sponsor. "Ethnic studies invites students to more deeply explore the many diverse cultures and identities within our state and country."
Sencer-Mura's bill would also create a working group to advise the state Department of Education on ethnic studies content and standards, and it would provide aid to school districts implementing the curriculum.
Republican lawmakers on the House education panel argued that no such mandate is needed, since many school districts across the state already offer ethnic studies classes. The bill was approved on a divided voice vote, with some GOP members opposed to moving the bill forward.
"Diversity makes us stronger. Learning different perspectives makes each of us, just simply at a basic level, better human beings," said Rep. Ben Bakeberg, R-Jordan. However, he said, "Local school districts across the state are already doing this, and they don't need us to mandate."
The same committee unanimously approved the bill requiring a personal finance class.
Rep. Hodan Hassan, the Minneapolis Democrat sponsoring the bill, said only 7% of Minnesota high school students opt to take a personal finance class. The class can help students make better decisions about borrowing and saving money in the future, she said.
"Our students deserve a well-balanced education," Hassan said. "High schools across the state teach geometry, art and history, which are all important subjects. But I ask you, how often does one need to calculate the area of a trapezoid in life?"
The bills are also moving through the DFL-controlled Senate.
Republican Rep. Dean Urdahl of Grove City has spent years trying to require civics education in schools. Presenting to the House education panel, Urdahl stressed that his bill to require a government and citizenship class is urgently needed.
"Seventy-seven percent of Americans between 18 and 34 can't name even one of their U.S. senators. Two-thirds of Americans can name at least one judge on American Idol," Urdahl said. "We've been in a civic slide to failure for 50 years."
Mary Hartnett, executive director of the nonprofit Clean Elections Minnesota, testified in favor of Urdahl's bill, which she said could help better inform the electorate and mend societal divisions.
"Having students develop the civic agency and competence to vote will keep our democracy strong," Hartnett said. "In the era of rising global authoritarianism and disinformation, civic education and political literacy for future voters is essential."