Students push representation

A Yale-based group is helping high school students demand a say in decisions on their education.

The Student Voice project — a part of Our Education, an educational reform group with chapters at five different colleges — is advocating for a bill that will mandate student representation with preferential vote in local boards of education, project director Amanda Turner ’07, who started the initiative, said. Turner said a preferential vote does not count toward the final outcome, but it does go on the record, which puts an obligation on other board members to consider it.

According to state Rep. Paul Davis, the members of the State Education Committee have responded very positively to a hearing on the bill held Tuesday. Turner, assistant director Andrew Steinberg ’08, and former Connecticut high school student Pan Pan Fan ’08 were among those who testified before the board.

“I thought that the group of students testifying did an outstanding job,” Davis said. “Both the co-chairs of the committee were very impressed.”

Aaron Tang ’05, president of Our Education, said getting the opportunity to present the bill at the hearing took a lot of work.

“There is a general institutional establishment that opposes reform,” Tang said. “Amanda has been very motivated for the cause, and this was the fruit of a year and a half of hard work.”

Turner said 47 percent of boards of education in Connecticut already include student representatives, but the current level of student participation is not meaningful, as students are not allowed to vote or to participate in the actual discussions.

“The bill seeks to make students more responsible and encourage them to take their participation in the board more seriously,” she said. “Involvement with the board should not be just another thing on their college application.”

At the same time, Turner said, the bill will create an obligation for other board members to consider the students’ positions before making decisions.

Turner said her frustrating experience as a member of her school board in Massachusetts prompted her to start the project. In Massachusetts, a law exists mandating student participation in school boards, but voting is not allowed. Turner said her participation allowed her to oppose cutting student projects because of the board’s budget concerns, but she said having a preferential vote would have made her efforts more effective.

Fan said when she served on the state’s Student Advisory Committee, she felt there was a lack of student representation on the local level.

“We did a lot on the broader issues, but really specific issues like budgeting were not addressed,” she said.

Turner said the bill still has to be passed by the State Education Committee and the Senate, reach the House of Representatives by June 8 — when the session closes — and finally be signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. She said the greatest challenge right now is to get the Education Committee to vote on it. Davis said although no one spoke against the bill, there is a chance that it might be overshadowed by bills which seem can more important, such as those concerning the budget.

“Even if they support it, it might fall between their fingers,” Turner said.

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