Praising the We the People curriculum for instilling a sense of civic responsibility in the next generation, Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long pledged that state funding for the program would continue.
The Fort Wayne Republican made the promise during his keynote address at 2014 We the People state dinner Sunday at Union Station in Indianapolis. Held in conjunction with the We the People state competition, the dinner brought together the program’s supporters, which included members of the bench and bar, teachers, and elected officials.
Long is credited with being instrumental in securing state money for the program when federal support evaporated as part of the demise of earmarks. Sunday evening Long said he has instructed Senate budget leaders to put a request in the governor’s budget for a We the People appropriation that matches the current appropriation of $300,000 per year.
“I pledge to you,” Long told the group, “that if the money is not inserted into the initial budget, it will be there when the final budget is passed because the Senate will make sure it’s there. We’ll put it in and we’ll leave it in there – I promise you that.”
Indiana Bar Foundation President Donald Lundberg said the money from the state is vital to ensure the program reaches as many high school and middle school students as possible.
“It makes the difference between running the robust program we have today and a program that would be just kind of limping along,” he said. “I mean truly, the General Assembly was the cavalry to the rescue when federal funding through the Center for Civic Education went away.”
Nationally, the We the People educational program, administered by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Civic Education in California, was receiving a $35 million appropriation from Congress. The funds were then distributed to the states with Hoosier portion going to the Indiana Bar Foundation to run the program here.
When the federal appropriation was discontinued, the Indiana Bar Foundation worked with Long to get the Indiana Legislature to include funding for the program in the 2013-2014 state budget.
The $300,000 annual appropriation matches what Indiana had been getting in federal funding.
In additional to the direct support of the program, the public money also encourages the private sector to contribute, said Charles Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar Foundation. He estimated the Indiana We the People program gets 44 percent of its funding from private individuals and organizations with the remaining 56 percent coming from public sector.
Indiana, Dunlap said, is the only state that is receiving this level of support from state government.
During his remarks, Long also indicated the Legislature would consider approving a larger appropriation.
“If we’re persuaded that additional dollars are needed to expand this program to the numbers that the leaders of this organization feel it needs to go, I can assure you we will take a hard look and do our best to increase the dollars that are in there for the 2015-2016 budget,” he said.
The dinner guests responded with a round of applause.
Funding for the We the People program in Indiana is used for the annual week-long summer institute for teachers, district and state competitions, textbooks, and administration expenses, according to Dunlap.
With additional money, Dunlap said the bar foundation would look to increase the number of participants. The foundation might ramp up teacher participation by adding a second summer institute and increase student involvement by possibly expanding the state competition from 12 to 14 teams for both the high school and middle school rounds.
At the dinner, the Indiana Bar Foundation presented Long with the William G. Baker Award, which recognizes an attorney who promotes civic education. Lundberg called Long, who has served as a judge at We the People competitions for many years, a great friend and supporter of the program.
Also the bar foundation presented Sandy Baker with the Dr. John J. Patrick Award, which honors a non-attorney who has made an outstanding contribution to civic education. The northwest Indiana teacher was recognized for her work in building a We The People program for elementary students.
Long praised the We the People program as teaching young people the important lesson of civic responsibility. Pointing to the disappointing 23 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 who went to the polls during the November election, he believes the younger generation’s cynicism about government comes because they don’t have an appreciation of the rights and freedoms they have today.
“For our nation to thrive in the future, our citizens must have the spirit of civic responsibility instilled in them,” Long said. “… Our generation, the one that is running things today, has the obligation to ensure that our children, our young people, our future citizen leaders are provided the tools they need to understand and embrace their role of civic responsibility.”
After the dinner, Long attributed the malaise among voters of all ages to a lack of education. For many years, people in Indiana did not need to graduate from high school to get a good paying job so education has not always been valued, he said.
However, he noted that is changing. The state is investing in classrooms from grade schools through college and coupled with programs like We The People, Long said the effort to push education will eventually make a difference in civic participation.
Not strengthening education and promoting civic responsibility will have serious consequences, the Senate president said.
“I think you get a population that really doesn’t appreciate its freedom and the fact that this is a nation run by the people not the government,” Long said. “If you take your freedoms for granted, you could lose them.”