This commentary was submitted by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence's Student Voice Team.
Over the last few months, the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team has employed every civic tool at our disposal to build support for the idea of allowing school districts to add a student to their superintendent screening committees.
In addition to thoroughly researching the issue, we drafted the language of the bill, enlisted a sponsor, lobbied legislators, reached out to advocates and other experts, published opinion pieces, testified before the House and Senate Education Committees, took to social media, promoted a petition yielding nearly 2,000 signatures, mobilized other students and adult allies, met with editorial boards, wrote press releases, and even held a mass rally on the steps of the Capitol that drew several hundred supporters.
We invested all of this time and energy in House Bill 236 because we saw the cost-free, bipartisan, opt-in measure as a relatively modest way to demonstrate the potential of young people to work with adults as partners to improve our schools at systemic levels.
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We did our homework and learned a hard lesson, as HB 236 failed to pass. Despite the fact that our bill moved out of the House and Senate Education Committees on its own merits, legislators subsequently added two amendments that would guarantee its failure in the House. This action distracted people from the substance of our own legislation as the short session wound to a close.
Throughout the session, we aimed to conduct ourselves with integrity and transparency. We agreed to compromise on the language of our bill, making the student member optional for districts and then making the position an advisory one. We answered perceived concerns about students' ability to handle confidentiality issues on a screening committee with exhaustive research. We made ourselves available to meet with legislators at nearly any time or any place to have an open discussion.
Why must partisan bickering interfere with the passage of a widely supported, cost-free, common-sense, apolitical measure?
Our bill, a single sentence that allows districts the opportunity to add a student to their superintendent screening committees, represents the efforts of students statewide who want to improve the school system that has given them so much.
Despite the failure of the bill, we will not give up on our vision. We take comfort in knowing that in the process of building support for it, we already have demonstrated what is possible when students work as partners to improve our schools and our communities more broadly.
We expect to return to the legislature next year more determined than ever to amplify and elevate student voices in the legislative process, but the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team will not wait to continue some important education policy work.
Items on the top of our agenda include the release of a report on transitions to postsecondary education in Kentucky and completion of a student voice audit in Clark County this summer.
We will persevere as engaged citizens because — as so many of our supporters have tweeted and posted in these last few months — we know #StudentVoiceMatters.