Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Montgomery County Lawmakers Approve Bill Granting Full Voting Rights to Student Member of Board of Education

UPDATE: A reader clarifies that the bill must now be approved by the full Maryland Senate (so far, it has been approved by the Montgomery County delegation in Annapolis). But this is usually a pro-forma vote (ie: it will be unusual for the bill not to pass).

A few days ago, Maryland Juice received the following email message from Tim Hwang, the former student member of Montgomery County's Board of Education. He announces that after years of persistent student-led efforts, the State House and Senate officials who represent Montgomery County have voted to approve full voting rights for the student member of the Board of Education (aka SMOB). Montgomery County public school students all vote in a countywide election to select a fellow student to represent their voices on the school board, and now their deputy is one step closer to voting on budget, labor and other policy matters -- just like the adult members.  The legislation was sponsored by Delegates Anne Kaiser and Tom Hucker:

I thought you'd like to know that I was just in Annapolis and the bill MC 9-12 passed unanimously in the Montgomery County House Delegation and 5-2 in the Senate Delegation.

The Student Member on the Montgomery County school board now has full voting rights (ie: they are now a completely equal member of the school board and can vote on everything including the budget, legislative proposals, collective bargaining, etc). This changes the dynamic of the discussion with public unions (MCEA, SEIU, etc) and the County Council and shifts the power dynamic on the school board to respect student opinion more.

This is a bill I introduced back when I was on the school board ( and the delegation finally took the initiative to pass it out - making MoCo the second county in the state to allow a completely equal student member of the board.
Tim Hwang

Last November, Maryland Juice wrote a little bit about the history of the student voting rights struggle on the Montgomery County Board of Education. We quoted an informative entry from Mr. Hwang on the My High School Journalism website from October 2009:
TIM HWANG: The Student Member of the Board is a 31-year-old appeasement for students. In 1977, the Maryland General Assembly created a nonvoting seat on the Board of Education, and a year later, David Naimon was elected as the first student member of the Montgomery County Board of Education.... 
In 1989, Maryland’s General Assembly gave the student member a limited vote within the board..... When the General Assembly gave “limited voting rights,” they meant it. The Student Member may not vote on “budget items, negative personnel matters, school closings/openings, and boundary changes,” according to the Montgomery County Public Schools website....
Last November, the fate of the student voting rights effort was uncertain, as the bill seemed stalled in the Senate. But the movement forward is now encouraging. Either way, it seems like across the county, students are becoming very savvy in building political alliances and advocacy strategies -- and politicians are noticing! First the anti-curfew organizers stopped MoCo's curfew plan, then competing candidate slates revitalized the MoCo Young Democrats, then the Young Dems helped change the conversation on marriage equality, then #JSA succeeds in getting their friend released, and now this (fingers crossed).

What will the young people do next?

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