Can Civics Education Help Clean Up Illinois? McCormick Thinks So

When it comes to political scandals, Illinois has developed a dubious reputation. Over the years, Prairie State politicians such as former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski and former governors Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan, and Rod Blagojevich have become headline news—and not in a good way. All were convicted or entered guilty pleas to various corruption charges.

Some political scientists and reform organizations have branded Illinois the most politically corrupt state in the nation. Perhaps one reason is the state's lax approach to civics education. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation reported that Illinois is one of only 10 states that does not require students to take a civics or government course. What's more, the state's standardized tests ignore social studies altogether.

McCormick, a charitable trust named for the former editor and pubisher of the Chicago Tribune, believes an informed citizenry is part of the solution to political corruption. Recently, the funder put $1.4 million worth of grants into civics education programs. The foundation also pumped an additional $1.1 million into initiatives aimed at improving civic health in Chicago through work that supports more transparency in government, reform in redistricting, and participatory budgeting.

Civics education has a special place in McCormick's grant-making activities, which also include early childhood education, journalism, community improvement, and veterans' issues. The funder has given civics-related grants in the past, and this year's crop of winners include past beneficiaries.

Recipients of civics education grants from McCormick include the following organizations:

  • Citizen Advocacy Center in Chicago, which received $94,000 to support civic education for youth, as well as initiatives to guide students, citizens, educators, and policymakers on getting involved in communities and the political process.
  • City Year Chicago, which was awarded a $300,000 grant to support its Corps Member training and Leadership Development program.
  • The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago. This organization received $60,000 to support its Youth Civic Leadership Academy, which engages Chicago youth in community programs that emphasize civic education, leadership, and service.
  • Mikva Challenge in Chicago, which received $125,000 to support youth democratic participation, public policymaking, and problem-solving programs.

In addition to these recipients, McCormick awarded $200,000 under its Civic Health program to the Civic Consulting Alliance in Chicago to support efforts to bring together business experts, public officials, and nonprofit sector leaders together to improve Chicago’s civic health and global competitiveness.