By Pragya Upreti, Sofie Farmer, and Arivumani Srivastava
Kentucky Student Voice Team
Last year, student and teacher seats were created on the Kentucky Board of Education, a major victory in advancing student voice. As non-voting members, students and teachers across the Commonwealth were finally given representation in the education system they experience directly. Now, less than a year after this victory, the Kentucky legislature is attempting to remove these seats and silence our voices with Senate revisions to HB178. Their removal rejects the merit of valuable input from those who live the realities of public schools across the state.
In response, the Kentucky Student Voice Team launched the #SaveOurSeats social media campaign. Within hours, nearly 200 students, educators, and community members signed on in support of student and educator seats on KBE.
Solyana Mesfin, a junior in Jefferson County, is the first student to serve an official role on the Kentucky board. “I know firsthand that when it comes to discussions held by the board, the perspective a student brings to the conversation is critical and incomparable,” she said. “Students understand the impacts of the decisions school boards make because we live with them in a way that no one else does and we can serve as an important reality check.”
“By placing students at the forefront of decision-making, Kentucky exclusively stands to benefit,” Connor Flick, a Boone County 11th grader, said. “Student voice on our boards allows our education policy to be proactive, effective, and responsive to the needs of primary stakeholders, setting us up for a more equitable future.”
In Kentucky and across the country, the presence and participation of students and teacher representatives on state boards has modeled democratic decision making, building transparency into an oftentimes obscure and unseen government process. Contrary to arguments made in committee, students and teachers are uniquely positioned to give relevant, real-time feedback about the current state of our education system. Student and educator representation on KBE also sets the precedent for student voice and representation throughout the education system.
The continuation of student and educator representation on the State Board of Education ensures that the Kentucky government remains accountable to all education stakeholders.
Brison Harvey, a Kentucky educator and former student state board representative in Maryland, points out, “In education, all policy decisions trickle down to impact teachers and students most directly. I can definitively say that my presence required all members to re-think and re-evaluate their perspectives to be inclusive of that of students. That only creates better solutions and stronger outcomes for all parties involved.”
In order to justly amend our state’s education system into one that works for every student, educator, and public education ally, we must democratize the process of decision making. That means giving students and educators a seat at the table.
The introduction of Senate Floor Amendment 1 by Senator Reggie Thomas and conference between the General Assembly chambers, there is still hope to protect student and teacher voices on the Board. However, with less than a week left in the legislative session, the window to make these changes is quickly closing and must be swiftly acted upon.
Sign-on to support student and educator representation on the Kentucky Board of Education and contact your legislator to save these student and teachers seats.
The representation of a teacher and student on the Board of Education affirms Kentucky’s commitment not only to education, but also to our democracy. We must save our seats.
Pragya Upreti is a Lafayette High School junior. Sofie Farmer is a Gatton Academy senior from Danville. Arivumani Srivastava is a Gatton Academy junior from Bowling Green.