What’s in a Vote: Student Members of County School Boards Seek More Authority

Student members of Maryland county school boards are organizing to expand their voting capacity on the board, and therefore their influence on important decisions.

The student members recently formed a new group to advocate for the expansion of their voting rights and authority. They call themselves the Maryland Association of Student Board Members.

According to Baltimore Sun reporting, “In Maryland, a student board member’s influence varies widely from county to county. Some students are nominated or selected for boards on a rotating basis from a county’s high schools. Some don’t sit on the dais with adult members, but at their own table. Some counties limit students’ ability to participate in votes, particularly those related to budgetary matters or personnel decisions.”

In contrast, Anne Arundel County has allowed its student representative to enjoy full voting rights for several decades.

Reporting from The Baltimore Sun explains the student members’ motivation:

As high-profile decisions come before their boards, the students seek to weigh in more.

The young board members have organized a coalition to advocate for putting more power behind their voices on the government panels that oversee their education. Their budding movement raises important questions about voting rights for minors and representation for an estimated 882,000 public students in Maryland.

The teens hope their nonpartisan association will outlast their one-year terms and help future student representatives navigate local government. In their constitution’s mission statement, the students said they seek to “better represent their constituents, allow for statewide youth advocacy, and provide support in the effort to expand the rights and presence of Student Board Members across the state.”

Notably, the group’s organizing comes as several school districts grapple with the role of their student board members. Howard County, for example, was recently involved in a lawsuit on the matter after parents challenged the student member’s participation in votes on whether or not to return to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.