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New Conn. program empowers students to decide how relief funds are spent

New Haven school busses
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
New Haven school buses

A $1.5 million federal relief fund investment will be given to schools across the state, and students will get to decide how those funds are spent.

Gov. Ned Lamont and state Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker launched the first-of-its-kind campaign on Wednesday at CREC Civic Leadership High School in Enfield, where a panel discussion was held with education leaders and local students.

The plan is called Voice4Change. Students can propose how to spend the $20,000 for their school and campaign for votes in favor of their plans.

Based on the program, students from the participating schools will submit proposals to the state Department of Education that outline how they propose to spend the money. Eligible proposals will then be voted on by their high school peers on March 11, 2022, one year after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act.

The state education department, school district and students then will work together to carry out the winning proposals in each school. Even with just the initial announcement, students already were full of ideas, including creating more community service opportunities and providing more after-school programs and cultural awareness activities.

Natalie Bandura, a Staples High School student, said it’s important to have programs like this to help prepare young people for the real world.

“I hope this inspires in the future just students to be more involved in conversations pertaining to how their schools are being led, something that if this is successful, then this can encourage more such initiatives and even on the district level just to inspire even more student activism,” Bandura said.

For Russell-Tucker, it was important to provide opportunities for students to engage.

“Giving voice is really critically important. I always like to say it’s not about them without them,” she said. “Everything we do in education is about you and making sure that you have all your supports and everything that you need. That’s what we’re talking about today, and we’re looking forward to hearing all the proposals.”

Forty-three districts encompassing 77 high schools are participating in the program, representing more than 55,000 students.