Senator says students become more ‘engaged’ when involved in school policies, poll work

By: - January 23, 2023 7:33 pm
school hallway lockers

Lockers line a high school hallway. (Getty Images)

LINCOLN — High school students would become more civically engaged if they worked at polling places or helped decide school policy, State Sen. George Dungan said Monday.

Dungan, a freshman senator from Lincoln, introduced a bill that would add a student member to the subcommittees that advise local school boards on proper social studies curriculum.

State Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln. (Courtesy of Dungan for Legislature)

Under his Legislative Bill 225, students ages 16 and older could also fulfill their civics graduation requirement by working a shift as a poll worker and then writing about it.

The senator said the bill would help address a shortage of poll workers and would foster civic engagement by students.

One supporter, Heidi Uhing of Civid Nebraska, said the proposal was part of a national trend to “broaden student participation” in civic affairs.

For instance, she said, at least 31 states, including Nebraska, allow local school boards to include student members, according to the National School Boards Association.

One supporter of the bill who testified Monday said he was the student member of the Conestoga School Board, as elected by the student body.

Student leaders inspire others

Harris Payne, a retired Omaha educator, also spoke in support of LB 225. He cited a recent Tufts University report that found students are inspired to become more involved in civics activities when they see other youths in leadership roles.

But Payne and others had problems with the idea, too.

How would a student member of the civics subcommittee be selected? What would be the qualifications? Would these students have a vote, along with the three school board members already on the committee? Those were among the questions he and others raised.

Colby Coash of the Nebraska Association of School Boards said mandating a student member on the civics subcommittee was unnecessary. It could create problems with complying with a mandate, he said, if a student couldn’t make one of the two meetings a year by the civics group due to conflict with a sport, a play performance or a class.

Student participation common

Coash said it was very common, already, to see a class president or other students participate at school board meetings.

Dungan said his proposal would leave it up to local school boards on how to select students for their civics subcommittee.

Currently, students can satisfy their civics requirement in one of three days: take the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Test; attend a public meeting and write about it; do a project on a person or persons commemorated in a national holiday.

The Education Committee took no action on LB 225 after Monday’s hearing.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.