On July 23, Governor Murphy signed “Laura Wooten’s Law,” which directs the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) to require at least one course specifically in civics or United States government as part of the social studies credit requirement for middle school graduation.

Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, each board of education will be required to provide a course about the values and principles underlying the American system of constitutional democracy, the function and limitations of government, and the role of a citizen in a democratic society.

The course will be taken by all students in an appropriate middle school grade. The bill also directs the New Jersey Center for Civic Education at Rutgers University to prepare curriculum guidelines and provide professional development for high school social studies teachers to fulfill the requirement of integrating civics, economics, and the history of New Jersey into the United States history course.

“By deepening civics instruction in middle school and high school, we are giving students the tools they need to be more engaged and informed citizens,” said Gov. Murphy.  “An understanding of civics strengthens our democracy by ensuring an understanding of the role that everyone plays in the future of their community, our state, and our nation. I am proud to sign this bill into law and honor Laura Wooten’s incredible civic legacy.”

The legislation is known as “Laura Wooten’s Law” in honor of the longest continuously serving poll worker in American history. Wooten worked during elections, helping people cast their ballots, for 79 years before she died in 2019, according to the governor’s office.

“Government leaders have been sounding the alarm about the civics crisis in this country for years, and I am grateful we are finally taking action,” said bill sponsor Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer. “The crisis reached a breaking point after the November election, which culminated in an insurrection at our U.S. Capitol in January. Safeguarding our democracy is now more urgent than ever, and one of the best ways we can do that is by teaching our future generations about the importance of civic skills, engagement, and participation and the value of a democratic process. The lack of civics knowledge creates a challenge to maintaining a perfect union, establishing justice, and ensuring domestic tranquility. We must learn to work together for the good of all of our communities and begin to bridge the deep political divide that exists in this country.”

Murphy signed the bill into law just days before the first hearing of the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, acting commissioner of education, said the new law would strengthen civics education.

“While civics has been a key element of our state’s learning standards for decades, this new law greatly increases the focus and attention that schools will place on civics instruction,” said Allen-McMillan. “The additional instruction that students will receive will ultimately lead to a well-informed and well-rounded citizenry.”