This essay is part of the Student Agenda Essay Series, where students are sharing the pillars of the National Student Agenda that resonate most, and why they take action.
Annie, pictured here, is a 12th grade student from Charlotte, North Carolina.
I started high school during the height of the pandemic, when deeply rooted systemic flaws within the education system were becoming increasingly exposed. The achievement gap for low-income and BIPOC students was widening, districts across the country hemorrhaged teachers, and major educational policy decisions were being made with little to no consideration of the student voices. Ultimately, these crises and injustices of the education system all share a common trait: they prevent students from receiving an education that can best prepare them for their future. In joining Our Turn, I have found an organization that strives to ensure schools and districts across the country Fully Invest in Our Futures. These investments cover a wide swath of priorities from more equitable school funding, to more affordable higher education, to practical curriculum. Most importantly, students should have some input on how these investments are made for their own futures.
Now, as a high school senior, the importance of investments in our futures is more clear to me than ever before. My peers and I grapple with the reality of what financing a college education looks like, and how it is increasingly unrealistic for working American families. Furthermore, in North Carolina and many other states, undocumented students face even greater barriers to paying for college as they are not entitled to in-state tuition, making an affordable four year degree nearly impossible to receive without undertaking massive amounts of debt.
Education policies that invest in our futures are education policies that allow for higher education to be a right that all students can pursue if they so choose.
Skyrocketing education costs are far from the only barrier for students to fully actualize their potential in education. School funding, a major indicator of student success rates, and access to advanced classes are not nearly equitable. In my home school district of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, working with students across the district has made it clear to me that there are stark divides across my city. Students from low-income schools are exposed to far fewer opportunities for rigorous coursework and even extracurricular activities, which hinders college admissions chances. Furthermore, Charlotte has a long history of using infrastructure to maintain racial segregation meaning these inequities are not only along financial lines, but racial lines as well. Fully investing in our futures does not mean fully investing in some of our futures. Under a just education system, the median income of your ZIP code does not serve as a determinant of your success not only in K-12 education, but in career and higher education opportunities for the rest of your life.
I am proud to be a member of Our Turn because as an activist, I am a firm believer that massive amounts of our societal struggles can find resolution, or at least mitigation, in education. I call on school districts across the country to fully invest in our futures because through educational reforms to affordability, equity, and curriculum, students across the country can see an increase in economic mobility, and systemic barriers and inequalities can finally begin to break down.