States Are Letting Students Steer Education Policy

In the past four years, at least seven states have added students to their education advisory boards, marking 33 states that now offer youth voices to steer policy. Students today have a place on state education boards, allowing them to steer policies.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Some would argue that the voice of America’s adolescents is an important key to prosperity in the future. Adhering to this notion, it has become more popular for states to allow students to steer educational policies. After all, no one may be more invested in their education than the youth themselves. 

According to a report from The 74 Million, at least 33 states now offer official youth positions on their boards of education or advisory roles. That’s up seven states from just a few years ago. This depicts a growing trend in allowing students to have a say in how public education operates. 

Mississippi, Kentucky, and Delaware created brand new student advisor positions within the last four years. Virginia, Idaho, California, Arizona, and Michigan added more seats to their growing boards. Some states, including Vermont and Massachusetts, even give these students a vote on official policies. 

It is now believed that the pandemic helped bolster the importance of students’ say in steering education policy. Unprecedented times meant that no one — adults or children alike — had a clear picture of how to live through a global pandemic that uprooted education and the normal means of learning. For this reason, more states are looking to children to get right to the source and find out what works and what doesn’t.

But what role do these youth advisors play in developing state policies? At a time when politically driven events and topics of sexual identity and gender lead to heated debates in schools, students lend an ear to weigh in on these high-profile issues. When dealing with matters of funding and enrollment, these youth often offer a straight-from-the-source viewpoint.

While the addition of these board of education roles is viewed as a positive, they don’t come without concern – there are issues over how much diversity is being provided. Oftentimes, minority students aren’t represented on these councils. More than not, students come from well-off families whose parents helped steer them into these roles. 

But still, many states have recognized this concern. Some now have diversity requirements for their selection process. And more than anything, these states are reflecting positive outcomes by representing more students from the entire community. 

Giving children more of a say in their education offers a wide array of beneficial outcomes. A recent study published by the University of California backs this theory up. It found that when schools listened to students’ concerns and reflected those in school mandates, grades and attendance rates both increased. 

In opposing spectrums, schools that tend to shun away students’ voices and needs tend to produce less successful pupils. In the study, schools that ranked in the bottom tenth for listening to student needs also displayed lower grade point averages. This was found even with control factors for the previous year’s statistics and socioeconomic variables.


33 states offer students a voice in public education policy. Over the next few years, more are likely to join. Just as with parenting, letting youth have a say in their overall education can engage them in their school work, and help them strive for success.