The American K-12 school system is at a breaking point, enabled, in many ways, by misguided Trump administration policies. Now, with Congress having confirmed the outcome of the presidential election and the Senate holding a confirmation hearing for a new education secretary, new leadership at the U.S. Department of Education is on the way. Still, students across the country are organizing to ensure that the school system improvements they need to thrive academically will come after the Biden-Harris administration assumes office.
Millions of students aren’t learning amid the pandemic because there isn’t a national solution to provide access to adequate internet or devices, especially in disadvantaged communities. Teachers are struggling to re-engage students while navigating the new terrain of hybrid learning models. Black, Indigenous students and students of color are most impacted by these and other challenges making it harder to teach, and learn. Yet, during his campaign, the president-elect never articulated a strong vision for addressing these problems in his first 100 days.
Voters didn’t demand such a vision because education isn’t a priority issue in our elections. In last year’s presidential campaign, only 10 percent of voters cited education as a priority, while nearly half cited the economy and unemployment.
Students are trying to change that, and are asking voters to help them ensure that education isn’t forgotten in the next political cycle.
Last year, a group of two dozen student leaders from across the country set out to finally establish education as a top priority in America. They created a campaign called Raise Your Hand, with support from Our Turn, that built a coalition of students, adults and social justice organizations. Utilizing the hashtag #RaiseYourHand, young people and allies shared their vision for public schools on social media and called upon the public to support a national student agenda — an ambitious vision for how to structure an education system that is responsive to students’ needs.
The agenda is intended to guide voter decisions about education now, and into the future. These activists, mostly students of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex students, are armed with their diverse experiences and the knowledge from having led local campaigns for educational justice, engaging over 1,000 students annually as organizers and participants in campaigns for systemic change. They are seizing upon a new opportunity for change, ushered in by an increase in our national focus on the inequities that disenfranchised communities struggle to overcome every day. Rather than reacting to the plans of politicians and administrators after budgets have been determined and resources allocated, students are setting a new standard for the future of education. It manifests through grassroots organizing campaigns that lead to student-first policy changes, such as redistributed police funding in districts and expanded mental health supports in schools.