Maryland House delegates Anne Kaiser and Tom Hucker are sponsoring a bill that would give the Montgomery County student member of the Board of Education (SMOB) a vote on school boundary changes and school closings and reopenings. Most significantly, the bill would allow the SMOB to have a say on budgets for school construction and operation, as well as union relations.
Current SMOB Alan Xie has some rights, including a vote on administrative appointments, the Board’s legislative platform, and some policy proposals. But state legislators should extend his rights to other issues like union negotiations and the budget because, as a student, the SMOB provides a different perspective. As those most impacted by BOE decisions, students have a very different point of view about, for example, the way budget funds are allocated.
MCPS students vote for the SMOB, who then serves on the BOE with seven adult members. The SMOB attends Board meetings and is highly involved in the Board’s work: he receives a daily package of memos, and he’s responsible for attending all Board and assigned committee meetings. But his limited voting rights render him unable to fully represent the students who elected him.
The BOE’s legislative platform explicitly supports expanding the student member’s voting rights to equal those of adult members, excluding only negative personnel matters like teacher disciplinary hearings. The Board’s gesture of support, however, is not enough to get the SMOB voting rights, which must be passed by the Maryland General Assembly.
Most MCPS students aren’t 18, the minimum age to elect BOE members, and thus don’t have influence over BOE issues that impact their education. Adults who don’t have children in public school can vote for a BOE member, yet students, who are the ones primarily affected by the BOE’s decisions, don’t get to vote for any member other than the SMOB. A SMOB with full voting abilities would bring the student voice into big decisions.
The current exclusion of the SMOB from certain specific issues is illogical. Xie’s vote was critical in hiring new superintendent Joshua Starr, yet he can’t vote on Starr’s proposed operating budget. Xie has proven himself in several rounds of elections, and he dedicates many hours to his position.
Xie’s lack of a full vote hinders his ability to represent students. When seeking support for his top issues, he can’t make the same bargains negotiating with other members as the Board members with a full vote can. A full vote would give the SMOB the ability to broker deals about the issues most important to students.
Student advocates have pursued a SMOB vote for many years. Last year, a bill to grant these privileges to the SMOB passed the House but died in a Senate delegation. Students should put pressure on legislators and advocate for the bill to make this the year the bill becomes a reality.