HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont and state Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker have announced the launch of Voice4Change, a first-of-its-kind campaign administered by the state Department of Education that offer high school students the opportunity to decide how American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief funds are spent.

A total of 43 districts encompassing 77 high schools across Connecticut have opted-in to participate, representing more than 55,000 students.

The governor explained that the goal for the initiative is to increase student engagement while fulfilling the State Board of Education’s vision of ensuring students thrive in a global economy and civic life by challenging students to think critically and solve real-world problems.

A first-in-the-nation statewide student civic engagement initiative, Voice4Change empowers high school students to propose and vote on how more than $1.5 million of the ARP ESSER state set-aside will be invested to reimagine schools across Connecticut.

Students from participating schools will submit proposals to the state Department of Education outlining how they propose to spend $20,000 in their school, aligned with the department’s ARP ESSER priorities.

Proposals deemed eligible to receive ARP ESSER funds will be voted on by their high school peers on March 11, 2022, one year after the historic American Rescue Plan Act was passed.

The state Department of Education, students and the school district will then work together to carry out the winning proposals in each school. Also reserved are five Commissioner Choice awards, which will be given to fulfill five innovative student proposals across the state that are not victorious in the elections.

“We are creating Voice4Change as a tool to give Connecticut high school students a voice in how these important relief dollars are spent,” Gov. Lamont said. “We want to hear from all voices when it comes to how these funds should be allocated, and that must include students. This is their opportunity to help make a change in their schools, and I hope they take advantage.”

“Studies have shown that promoting civic engagement in students can improve academic performance and social-emotional well-being,” Commissioner Russell-Tucker said. “We look forward to seeing student proposals to reimagine their schools and to bringing some of those to life, empowering students to be changemakers in their school communities.”

“Every student has at some point into class wishing something was different within their school,” Natalie Bandura, a student member of the State Board of Education and senior at Staples High School in Westport, said. “What makes this initiative so exciting is that it tells students that we are the ones who have the power to make that change. Voice4Change will bring students into more conversations to shape their educational experiences.”

“Voice4Change will inspire creative thinking and empower us students to create a better learning environment for ourselves,” Rishabh Bhandari, a student member of the State Board of Education and senior at Wilton High School in Wilton, said. “Voice4Change gives us the opportunities and resources to make a lasting and meaningful impact on our school.”

Information on the initiative will soon be available on the state Department of Education’s Voice4Change webpage at ct.gov/voice4change. The student application period will launch near the end of November and close in early January.

Any questions regarding Voice4Change can be sent to SDE.ARPESSER@ct.gov.

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