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Youth Civic Education & Engagement
Reimagining the way we engage the next generation of voters
When young voters don’t participate in elections – because of lack of access, lack of knowledge, or feelings that their votes don’t matter – our communities lose their valuable perspectives. On the other hand, people who do vote report encouraging benefits such as strengthened social ties and improved community outcomes including economic stability and better physical and mental health.
These feelings or experiences may keep young voters from participating in elections:
Disappointing Turnout in Young Voters
Just over a quarter of Texans aged 18 to 29 voted in the 2018 midterm election. Although this represents a 17-point increase in turnout since the last midterm cycle, the fact that 74% of eligible young voters did not vote means that our electorate still doesn’t represent the young, diverse Texas population.
2018 Midterm Election: Voter Turnout for Texans Ages 18-29
Exploring the Opportunities
As another election cycle approaches, CDF-Texas is working to identify target counties for increased youth voter turnout efforts.
We found that average young voter turnout in the 2012, 2014, and 2016 general elections ranged from 2.90% in Mitchell County to 24.10% in Ellis County*. Of the 10 counties with the highest young-adult populations, the average young-voter turnout in the same three election cycles was less than 11%. From this, we have identified 50 Opportunity Counties that present a rich environment for voter-engagement efforts due to their relatively large population of young adults and relatively low rates of young voter turnout.
The 50 counties identified by CDF–Texas represent prime opportunities for young voter targeting efforts in future election cycles.
*Data obtained from the Secretary of State.
Why youth civic education?
In Texas, there is compelling evidence that many students, especially low-income students of color, are getting little if any civic education. State-specific research shows that on almost every measure of political and civic participation, Texas ranked at or near the bottom compared to other states. Addressing this challenge demands that we build early habits of civic engagement.
We believe an understanding of the function of government and the role and responsibility of every citizen to participate in the civic process is fundamental to the health of our democracy. We know students benefit from a quality civic education because they are more likely to vote, to remain in school, volunteer and work on community issues, and engage in critical thinking and civil debate. We believe that empowering marginalized youth to engage in the civic decision-making that affects their lives can be a powerful tool for addressing social exclusion and injustice.
Every child—regardless of race, ethnicity, ability or other socioeconomic factors—should have access to quality and culturally responsive civics education in our public schools. Greater civic engagement and participation of youth, particularly youth of color, is critical to ensure that young people will share in both the decision-making of our community and the economic prosperity of our state.
CDF-Texas has launched a new initiative to improve civic education and youth civic engagement in Texas. This effort seeks to reimagine how we conduct civic education in our schools, how we engage and support first-time voters and how we create active opportunities for community engagement for our youth.
Our approach to youth engagement is multifaceted, aiming not only to increase youth voter participation, but also to support action-based learning of civic education that instills in youth an understanding of how to use their voice to advocate for changes in their community.
We approach our civic education advocacy effort on two fronts: highlighting the state barriers to access that exist for youth voter registration and participation, and the greater need for quality and culturally responsive civic education in our public schools. Our team works to ensure that children have all of the tools they need to be engaged in our civics systems, to easily navigate them, and to inspire their peers to get involved.
To increase civic engagement among youth, CDF-Texas believes we must:
- Encourage Peer High School Voter Registration: Though all high schools in Texas are required to offer voter registration to their students, compliance is very low. To combat this, we seek to empower high school students to register their peers to vote and to create a culture of voting within their schools and communities.
- Craft a Youth Advocacy and Civic Participation Curriculum: CDF-Texas seeks to train budding advocates on the nuts and bolts our civics systems and how they can advocate for the issues that concern them. Through conversations led by young people at roundtables and working with both state civics curriculum requirements and online resources, we aim to craft materials that can be used inside and outside of schools to empower youth.
- Train Young People to be Empowered Self-Advocates to the Legislature: It is those who are affected by issues who are most equipped to speak on them, and we want to train young people to speak to their elected officials on the policy issues that impact their lives. CDF-Texas aims to train young people to use their voices and their stories to create the changes they want to see for the good of their communities.
- Convene Practitioners, Educators, and School Administrators to Improve Civic Learning in Texas Classrooms: In order to promote best practices in civic education, CDF-Texas has created the Texas Civic Education Roundtable together with the Annette Strauss Institute, Generation Citizen, the League of Women Voters and others. The Roundtable convenes stakeholders committed to improving youth civic education and engagement in Texas from across disciplines and community roles through state and school system changes.
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