March 11, 2021

Save Our Seats Petition

Students and teachers from across the state strongly oppose attempts by the General Assembly to remove the teacher and student non-voting members from the Kentucky Board of Education. These positions ensure that the system’s primary stakeholders have a direct say in state-level education policy and help ensure that we can improve schools for all students.

Solyana Mesfin, a junior at Eastern High School in Jefferson County, is the first student to serve in 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.”

We are on the front lines of education policy and practice. Including students and teachers on the Kentucky Board of Education honors both our lived experience and our expertise on the issues that affect us, enhancing the policy-making process.

“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 have modeled democratic decision making, building transparency into an oftentimes obscure public process.

“Ultimately, students—not legislators, not administrators, not community members—are the preeminent experts in their own education,” Emma Nesmith, a Boyle County 11th grader, said. “No other group can present such a vital perspective on the real world impacts of education policy.”

The continuation of student and educator representation on the State Board of Education ensures that Kentucky remains more accountable to all education stakeholders. The proposed changes to HB 178, which were initiated by the Senate Education Committee, threaten that representation.

Brison Harvey, 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.”

“With hundreds of thousands of Kentucky public school students and educators, it is critical that there is student and teacher representation in education policy,” Sofie Farmer, a Warren County 12th grader and member of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, said. “The diversity of student and teacher experiences are best known by students and teachers, and the proper representation of these voices is vital in education decision making, emphasizing the need for further inclusion.”

“Students and educators are at the heart of our state’s education system,” Pragya Upreti, a Fayette County 11th grader, said. “Disavowing our voices in policymaking is a direct threat to the integrity of our public schools.”

The representation of a teacher and student on the Board of Education signals Kentucky’s commitment not just to us, but also to our democracy.

Let’s save our seats.

The Kentucky Student Voice Team is a statewide organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners.

This statement was written by the Kentucky Student Voice Team in collaboaration with allies and joined by the Kentucky Student Council Association, JackBeNimble, Student Voice, and the HSID Student Congress.