Proposed Maryland law would give student school board members voting rights

Student members of Maryland boards of education are elected to add the student’s voice to their local school boards. But not all of them can vote.

Maryland Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, wants to change that.

In a hearing Thursday, Luedtke told the members of the House Ways and Means Committee, “I believe it’s time for us to acknowledge that students themselves have the right to have a voice in the education they receive.”

In Montgomery County, for example, student member of the school board Hana O’Looney can vote on all but “negative personnel matters,” according to the position description on the Montgomery County Public Schools website. In Prince George’s County, student board member Alvaro Ceron-Ruiz can vote on all but budget and personnel matters.

House Bill 797 would allow students elected to serve on the board of education in their community the right to cast a vote alongside the other elected members.

During Thursday’s hearing, Luedtke pointed out that another bill would promote civics education in schools across Maryland.

“What better civics education is there than to allow students to actually participate in an electoral process?” he told members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Henry Meiser of the Southern Maryland Youth Leadership Foundation told the committee, “The bill goes to show that students’ opinions on their education are valued and considered by their county and state.”

Meiser said the student representative of each county deserves to be in the room where decisions are made.

Kevin Bokoum, currently serving as the student member of the Maryland State Board of Education, told committee members that student members are committed to their positions, and play an important role of bridging the gap between students and board members.

“Student members often successfully communicate and explain board policy better than board members and other staff,” Bokum said.

Washington County’s student board of education member Tanish Gupta pointed out that it might come as news to people that the county’s board has a student position.

Gupta explained that the main photo of the board on the school system’s web page doesn’t include him, and he noted how student board members across the state have varying levels of voting authority.

“Why does Montgomery County have full voting rights and Prince George’s does not? Are the students of Prince George’s County less qualified to serve on the board?” Gupta said.

Several concerns were raised about granting students voting rights.

Del. Mike Griffith noted that a number of boards of education have an odd number of members on their boards. He suggested the potential for what he called “gridlock,” and he asked if Luedtke had considered the impact.

Luedtke responded that the bill would not go into effect until July 2023, giving school boards a chance to bring bills to Annapolis to change the size of school boards, “if they so chose.”

John Woolums, with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, spoke against the bill.

“We oppose the bill based on our strong support for the principal of local advocacy for reforms on local boards of education,” Woolums said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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