Student representation within school boards is not a new idea to many students who know the power of student voice in decision-making spaces. Despite this, student representation on school boards has yet to become the norm in Kentucky, and the concept has not been officially introduced as a pillar within school board systems. This is to the dismay of students who believe that a lack of student input or representation can lead to unfair, dysfunctional, and biased rules and policies.
According to the National School Board Association, among the 495 largest school districts in the United States, 14% have student board members. In Kentucky, 15 out of 171 school districts have a student on their board, according to the Courier Journal. That stands to change: there are three bills in the state legislature that give students an unprecedented amount of representation, power, and overall choice within local school boards and beyond in unique ways.
The three bills enable Kentucky students to hold their schools accountable, and are backed by bipartisan support.
- House Bill 161 is being introduced by Representatives Lisa Willner (D) and Killian Timoney (R), and would add a non-voting student member to every district school board in the state, stating a requirement for “each local school board to adopt a school board student representative policy.”
- House Bill 136 is being introduced by Representative William Lawrence (R), and would add additional voting student members to higher education boards of trustees in the state of Kentucky–which would, according to Lawrence, “require more student representation on the boards of our universities, including a graduate student for the first time in history” as well as “expand educational opportunities by fighting to ensure our universities are accessible and held accountable to serve Kentucky’s families and students.”
- Finally, Senate Bill 22 ,introduced by Senator Reggie Thomas (D), would give voting rights to the student member on the Kentucky Board of Education. Senator Thomas commented on the bill, saying “ ... Let us invest in the future by passing Senate Bill 22, which gives students a legitimate voice at the decision-making table."
The bills revolve around students’ involvement in their education and the related topics that affect them. They are an endorsement of students’ power to speak up about ongoing issues, and the bipartisan support for the bills highlights that student voice in education is on the radar of legislators across the political spectrum.
The recently-introduced legislation has made it clear that students in Kentucky want to have a say in what happens to their schools and are fighting for recognition as the right people to help hold their schools accountable. Because the upcoming legislative measures help students get seats at the table in decision-making processes, the Kentucky Student Voice Team (KSVT) supports them with enthusiasm.
“Students can bring a unique and vital perspective on what's working and what’s not working in our schools,” said Joud Dahleh, a Kentucky Board of Education representative and a junior at the Ignite Institute in Boone County. “From my role on the state board of education, I’ve seen firsthand how students can notice problems and propose solutions that adults can sometimes miss.”
Dahleh is a member of the Kentucky Student Voice Team, as is Solyana Mesfin, the first student to serve on the Kentucky Board of Education. Members of the KSVT know firsthand the power that students bring when it comes to who gets a say in what happens or doesn’t happen in and to schools.
Cadence Brown, KSVT's cross-organizational coordinator and a student at Marshall County High School, has spoken on behalf of the team's excitement, saying that she “is quite pleased with the legislators from both parties as they appreciate the value student voices can bring.”
It is clear that these three measures build on the bipartisan progress that Kentucky has made to guarantee students have a seat and a say in education decision-making. With each of these bills providing unique provisions for support for students' voices in Kentucky, the legislation would allow adult decisionmakers to have a fuller picture of what is going on in the schools of Kentucky. As KSVT–and students across the state–examines the current slate of Kentucky education legislation, House Bills 161 and 136, as well as Senate Bill 22, provide assurance that students’ expertise on issues within schools, including ones that can be missed altogether by adults, and their solutions, have energy, merit, and bipartisan support.
Esmeralda Rojas, Taryn Newton, and Krisean Smith are 8th grade students at Leestown Middle School. Esmeralda, Taryn, and Krisean are members of the Kentucky Student Voice Team, and writers with The New Edu’s Press Corps.