Report by Paula Antolini, November 11, 2021, 4:46PM EDT
Gov. Lamont and CT State Dept. of Education Announce Students To Decide How More Than $1.5 Million in Federal Relief Funds Are Invested
Connecticut’s Voice4Change Initiative Empowers High School Students to Decide How Relief Funds Are Spent
(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Ned Lamont and Connecticut Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker today announced the launch of Voice4Change, a first-of-its-kind campaign administered by the Connecticut State Department of Education that will empower high school students to decide how American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds are spent.
A total of 43 districts encompassing 77 high schools across Connecticut have opted-in to participate, representing more than 55,000 students.
The governor explained that the goal for the initiative is to increase student engagement while fulfilling the Connecticut State Board of Education’s vision of ensuring students thrive in a global economy and civic life by challenging students to think critically and solve real-world problems. A first-in-the-nation statewide student civic engagement initiative, Voice4Change is empowering high school students to propose and vote on how more than $1.5 million of the ARP ESSER state set-aside will be invested to reimagine schools across Connecticut.
Students from the participating schools will submit proposals to the Connecticut State Department of Education outlining how they propose to spend $20,000 in their school, aligned with the department’s ARP ESSER priorities. Proposals deemed eligible to receive ARP ESSER funds will ultimately be voted on by their high school peers on March 11, 2022, one year after the historic American Rescue Plan Act was passed. The Connecticut State Department of Education, students, and the school district will then work together to carry out the winning proposals in each school. Also reserved are five Commissioner Choice awards, which will be given to fulfill five innovative student proposals across the state that are not victorious in their elections.
“We are creating Voice4Change as a tool to give Connecticut high school students a voice in how these important relief dollars are spent,” Governor Lamont said. “We want to hear from all voices when it comes to how these funds should be allocated, and that must include students. This is their opportunity to help make a change in their schools, and I hope they take advantage.”
“Studies have shown that promoting civic engagement in students can improve academic performance and social-emotional well-being,” Commissioner Russell-Tucker said. “We look forward to seeing student proposals to reimagine their schools and to bringing some of those to life, empowering students to be changemakers in their school communities.”
Governor Lamont and Commissioner Russell-Tucker this morning visited CREC Civic Leadership High School in Enfield, where they held a news conference to announce the launch of the initiative.
“The Capitol Region Education Council magnet schools have a long tradition of including student voice in our decision-making processes,” Timothy Sullivan, Superintendent of Schools at CREC, said. “The Voice4Change initiative is a great example of moving beyond student voice and letting students be agents of change in their schools. As we try to move out of the pandemic, no one knows more about what students need than the students themselves. This program gives them an opportunity to act on that knowledge and schools in our state to more responsive as a result. Hats off to the leadership in Connecticut for taking this important step.”
“Every student has at some point come into class wishing something was different within their school,” Natalie Bandura, a student member of the Connecticut State Board of Education and senior at Staples High School in Westport, said. “What makes this initiative so exciting is that is tells students that we are the ones who have the power to make that change. Voice4Change will bring students into more conversations to shape their educational experiences.”
“Voice4Change will inspire creative thinking and empower us students to create a better learning environment for ourselves,” Rishabh Bhandari, a student member of the Connecticut State Board of Education and senior at Wilton High School in Wilton, said. “Voice4Change gives us the opportunities and resources to make a lasting and meaningful impact on our school.”
Information on the initiative will soon be made available on the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Voice4Change webpage at ct.gov/voice4change. The student application period will launch near the end of November and close in early January. Any questions regarding Voice4Change can be sent to SDE.ARPESSER@ct.gov.