Tomorrow the Senate will be voting on a bill that would significantly alter politics as usual in Maryland. For the past three decades, students from across the county have fought for voting rights for their student member. While, Maryland is famous for its commitment to student advocacy on local Boards of Education, it’s time for Montgomery County to lead the way for the next generation and send a strong message that your opinions should be valued.
Currently, I, as the student member, am not allowed to vote on issues relating to the budget, boundaries and redistricting, school closings, and firing personnel. This year, I have made it my goal to change this and allow your representative to vote on the $2.2 Billion Budget and $1.1 Billion Capital Budget. Why? Because that's the way real change gets done. During the election you told me you wanted better teachers, you wanted programs, you wanted better schools - but all these things take money. And right now your representative can not vote on ANY of it.
The SMOB can’t enact real change unless they're given the opportunity to do so! My hope is that this bill passes and future SMOBs will be a powerful and resounding voice for the students. If the County and the State are truly committed to improving the educational system of Montgomery County and placing the interest of the students first, especially in these tough budget times, it must affirm and respect the contributions of the student voice by granting this right.
The words “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union” are echoed throughout the years within our government classes – in an attempt to get our youth politically involved, yet for students – these “People” are often associated with those that make decisions, the adults, and students are left outside the gates of the decision making process. Under this current system, students are fundamentally excluded from the process. We are the largest stakeholder in the system, and yet we have the least representation in our own education. I can’t accept this, and neither should you. Next year, will be a tough budget year for us, and now more than ever we need a powerful on-the-ground student perspective on the issues that relate to us. But I need your help.
Currently, there are those who say that students are too inexperienced. That they don’t have the knowledge or the skillset to be able to handle the kind of work or pressure it takes to be a full board member. That they’ll be manipulated by the powers that be. And there are those who continue to disrespect the student voice and deny them an opportunity to be heard. But let me ask you a fundamental question: what is a school system without its students? What is the purpose of the educational system if not to prepare students to have the very skillsets that they are denying?
Your county student governments, your teacher’s union, almost every single Delegate in the Montgomery County Delegation, your County Council, your County Executive, your Board of Education, parents, and community leaders have all come out – together - with overwhelming support for this bill. But tomorrow, I’ll need your help. We need to make calls, write letters, sign petitions to tell our State Senators how important it is that we get the representation that we deserve.
This year, we have the opportunity to make history. Young people are no longer apathetic when it comes to policies that affect them. That is why I am here today, as a voice for you all. This issue is not just about voting rights; it is about our generation’s ability to raise political efficacy among the youth, to improve our government, and to spark innovative and generational leaders. We have one of the biggest opportunities as a community to truly change the world we live in, and this is our opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of our youngest citizens. Ultimately, this issue boils down to one question: do our elected officials trust and respect the student voice? That answer should be a resounding yes. And with your help, I am confident that we will be able to accomplish all our goals. Thank you.