How students can decide school budgets and policies

Young people need safer and more supportive schools. Whether in Parkland, Florida, or in communities of color that face violence daily, students are demanding more of a say in how their schools are run.

This spring, we showed how schools can take student voice to the next level: Invite students to directly decide school spending and policies.

At two Brooklyn high school campuses, we engaged students in deciding over one million dollars and new policies to make their schools safer and more supportive. Through this “participatory justice” pilot program, students crafted and voted on spending and policy proposals to be implemented by their school administration. At each campus students decided how to spend $500,000 in capital funds from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, $10,000 in program funds from their school administrations, and new policy and rule changes for their campuses.

Students decided 10 times more funding than in any other school participatory budgeting (PB) process.

Watch this inspiring news coverage from NY1

In January 2019, students on campus councils at the John Jay High School Campus and the Gotham/Acorn High School Campus began planning the process.

Idea collection

They started by agreeing on the rules for the process, and then brainstorming and collecting ideas from their peers.

Proposal Development

After collecting ideas, students narrowed them down with help from PBP, the School Construction Authority, and their principals.

Vote

Approved ideas made it onto the ballot for a school-wide vote.

Implementation

Winning projects include a new basketball court, campus-wide movies and events, more sports clubs, drinking fountains, bathroom renovations, and campus safety councils. See below for the full vote results.

Students redefined what safety means for them.

The principal at Gotham Academy was energized by the process and impressed by students’ ideas:

We get to see what students think will improve safety. It’s profound. It’s not more safety agents - let’s talk about the impact of how we are dealing with safety as a community. It’s more clubs - how are we connecting as people. It’s the safety in academic support and extra help  - how are we actually improving our practice as scholars. . . These are the things that will improve safety for them and that is really powerful for us.

In total, 1,488 students voted and 95% of them said that these projects and policies would make the campus safer and more supportive. 408 students volunteered to join the student councils after voting.

Eric Adams
Vote Poster

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams emphasized the power of PB in schools:

The principals are not going to decide, the administration at the Department of Education is not going to decide. The students decide. That is a very powerful feeling, when you no longer feel like someone is dictating to you.

Monica, a student from Gotham Academy shared how it feels to make the big decisions that impact your life:

There are so many things that are out of our control but when I heard about PB, I thought, ‘this is great because we get to take the choice out of people’s hands who don’t know how this is going to have a direct impact on our life.’ You get to put that power of choice into the hands of the student, who gets to choose where the money goes. This is what WE want, not what other people are choosing for us.

Thank you to the New York Community Trust and the Brooklyn Community Foundation for funding this new program, and for our partners at Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ office, Neighbors in Action, and Theatre of the Oppressed NYC.

PB in schools is a powerful approach for building stronger communities and more informed and empowered students.

Schools and school districts around the world use PB to engage students, parents, and teachers in deciding which school programs to fund. The PB process builds understanding of school budgets, directs funds to pressing needs and innovative ideas, and helps students and community members learn democracy and active citizenship.

Through PB, students deepen skills with collaboration, research, surveying, problem-solving, and critical thinking. They increase awareness of community needs and their role in addressing those needs, understand budgetary processes, and develop basic budgeting skills.

This year, as we reflect on the first ten years of PBP, we also look ahead to new and promising projects like PB in these two Brooklyn schools. Will you join us as we celebrate and vision - by joining us at our Anniversary Benefit on May 23rd or becoming a PB Amplifier?

Vote Results

Gotham Academy & Acorn Community School

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John Jay Campus

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