Last November, voter turnout was the key to turning the corner on the hatred and ineptitude of the former presidential administration. The highest-ever percentage of voters ages 18-29—53%—showed up to cast their ballot for change.
Our kids, who were in 5th grade in Boston Public Schools at the time, were super-engaged: watching parts of the debates, discussing the election with their teachers and classmates, and accompanying us to the polls.
And during the run-up to this September’s primaries, we had multiple conversations about how exciting it was to have so many women of color on the ballot and what kind of change that could represent for the city.
At home and during their time in BPS, our kids have learned about how long it took women to secure the right to vote, and how hard African-Americans fought for decades to secure equal access to voting rights. And in both spheres, our kids are learning to be critical thinkers—why did it take women and people of color so long to get the vote?—and how to focus on how they might create change.
As middle schoolers now, our kids get it: The ability to vote is the ability to hold elected officials accountable for their actions and their policies. But in the institution our kids know best, BPS, voters don’t have the opportunity to hold anyone accountable for the actions and the policies put in place by the governing body—the school committee.
Boston’s school committee has been appointed by the mayor since 1991. Out of 351 municipalities in Massachusetts, Boston is the only one to have an appointed school committee. Every other municipality in the state elects their school committee. Here in Boston, the biggest district in the state, the entity that sets the policies and approves the budget for the public schools serves at the pleasure of the mayor.
And we’ve seen this play out year after year as the school committee takes on its work.
In the seven-plus years our families have been part of BPS, parents have testified, written public comments, and organized for things like functional water fountains, working windows, proper HVAC systems, keeping our childrens’ schools open—only to watch the appointed school committee cater to the mayor’s agenda again and again.
In fact, in 2019, the school committee voted unanimously on 111 action items. That record makes it hard to believe that the voices of a diverse community of parents and students from a range of schools, neighborhoods, and backgrounds are actually being taken into account.
And this lack of representation and accountability is the crux of the issue – how do we explain to our kids that the benefits of representative democracy just don’t apply in this situation? Especially when over the years they have experienced the very real neglect these unaccountable leaders have allowed to manifest in their schools.
Our public schools were the first public school system in the country, and our city is where the original fight for representation began. This is to say: Boston should be leading the way in terms of public education. An elected school committee, one that is held accountable by its constituents, is the first step.
Having an elected school committee is fundamentally a voting rights—and a civil rights—issue. For the past 30 years, year after year, students, parents, community members, and educators—especially Black and brown people—have lined up to ask the appointed school committee for basic resources that their schools lack. That appointed committee invariably doesn’t listen or act on the community’s behalf because they’re not elected, and therefore not accountable, to the community.
The good news is, and with hopes that we can make our kids proud, we have the opportunity to bring back voting rights to Bostonians by bringing back an elected School Committee.
In the weeks, we’re heading out to vote in an historic election for mayor of Boston. It’s a moment of change for the city. It’s a chance for voters throughout Boston’s neighborhoods to cast their vote for the kind of representation they want to see in the city. The only way the Boston School Committee can represent the people of Boston is by ensuring we have an elected school committee.
So when you go to vote on November 2, Ballot Question 3 will ask you if you want an elected Boston School Committee. The answer is a resounding YES.
Click here to learn more about Bostonians for an Elected School Committee.
Rebecca Connors is a Boston Public Schools parent and Jamaica Plain resident. Leigh Belanger is a Boston Public Schools parent and a Jamaica Plain resident.
Editor's note: Question 3 is non-binding and states: “Should the Current appointed school committee structure be changed to a school committee elected by the residents of Boston?”