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Perhaps obscured by the many big-ticket items that the K-12 education budget put through this year, I am very proud that the Legislature made the important decision to ensure that every student who goes through Minnesota's public school system will now be required to take a course in government and citizenship in order to graduate.

This was no small accomplishment. The provision, which was seven years in the making, positions Minnesota as one of the country's leaders when it comes to ensuring our students have a functioning knowledge of civics and democracy as they transition into more advanced roles in society and government, knowledge crucial to preserving the foundation of our state.

In 2016, I retired after teaching 12,000 students about American government and began the next stage of my life as a state senator. One of the first things I learned was that students were not required to take a civics class to graduate from a Minnesota high school. I also learned that Article XIII of the Minnesota Constitution states: "The stability of a republican form of government, depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools."

A republican form of government depends upon the intelligence of the people. Yes, indeed!

Yet for far too long our country has ignored civic education, to the point that the federal government now spends less than 50 cents per student per year on civic education, while spending more than $50 per year per student on STEM instruction.

While we do not want to take away from STEM, this ambivalence toward civics has yielded disastrous results. This was evidenced by the recent release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress results, which showed that only 22% of our country's eighth-graders are proficient in civics.

One need look no further than the headlines in this publication to show that as a country founded on civic duty, we have lost even the most basic skills: Huge swaths of citizens feel ill-equipped to vote, engage with our democratic institutions, or even take part in basic civil discourse.

With federal resources sorely lacking, it is up to individual states to make sure that we are providing the education that our next generations need to become engaged participants in our constitutional democracy.

With the passage of this budget and this bill, we now have the opportunity to make sure that Minnesota students graduate with the civic knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors necessary for informed, lifelong engagement in the civic life of our treasured communities, state and nation.

After the signing of the U.S. Constitution, Americans gathered outside Independence Hall and someone asked Benjamin Franklin: "What kind of government are you giving us?" He replied: "A Republic if you can keep it!" Our state is now in a better position to keep it.

Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.