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Request legislation: student votes on the Board

Release Date: 

December 7, 2021

SBE is a 16-member board, including two student members. Under current law, all the board members can vote except for the student members. In 2019, the Board changed its bylaws to allow students to make an advisory vote, but a statutory change is needed to allow student votes to count. The State Board’s request legislation would extend voting authority to the student members on the Board, allowing them to vote in the same manner as other members. With this change, Washington would join the ranks with other states that are leading the way with student voting members on their state boards of education, including California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Vermont.

Student voiceThe student members on the State Board represent over one million students across the state who are directly impacted by the policy decisions the Board makes. Their involvement and input are critical to ensuring that the policies the Board develops are student-centered and responsive to student needs. As a learning organization aimed at continuous improvement, the Board has strengthened its selection, onboarding, and support of student members to ensure they can serve effectively in their role. The student members are members of the Association of Washington Student Leaders (AWSL) and are selected by their peers. They regularly liaise with AWSL and other student groups to collect input from a diverse pool of students on policy matters under the Board’s consideration.

Student members fulfill the same duties and expectations as do other Board members. In fact, they often exceed expectations by taking the lead on advocacy efforts and facilitating student voice panels (see for example, Modern Day Racism in Education). Ever since 2019 when the Board amended its bylaws to allow student advisory votes, student members have demonstrated a track record of casting thoughtful votes reflecting the input of their peers and providing an essential window for the rest of the Board members to consider the student perspective before voting on policy decisions.

Despite the Board’s efforts to center student voice, the student members have expressed that their involvement feels performative and the fact that they can only offer an advisory vote creates an “incredibly difficult power dynamic for students to actually feel heard” (McKenna Roberts in Seattle Times interview August 2021). This sentiment has been echoed by other student advocacy groups that share concern that student voice is tokenized and not authentically heard by adults in the K-12 education system who make decisions on their behalf.

This proposal responds to students advocating “not about us without us.” The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have exposed and amplified the need for state agencies to reconsider how practices have been done in the past. We need to value student voice now more than ever as we reimagine and create a better education system for recovery and beyond with students and equity at the center.

The request promotes equity and achieves “procedural fairness” by granting students access to power in the decision-making process from which they have historically been excluded. It aligns with the goals expressed in the establishing legislation of the Governor’s Office of Equity to “assist government agencies to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of their decision making.”

Find out more about SBE's 2022 Legislative Platform: Download the one-pager on this request legislation.

Media Contact: 

Stephanie Davidsmeyer
Communications Manager