When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, the world seemed to collapse. Highways emptied, masks covered people’s faces and classrooms turned virtual. Long-standing issues of educational inequality erupted, and new ones — like learning loss and mental health struggles — rose with them.
As Georgia students, even three years later, we still feel the pandemic’s effects.
When legislators weigh educational priorities, they often leave out the voices of those impacted most by school funding, curriculum, and safety policies — students ourselves. As students, we share an understanding of what works and what doesn’t, not simply from statistics or data but from our own lived experiences.
We’re the experts in the room, but often the rooms where policies are written explicitly exclude students, working parents, and experienced educators.
We ride dilapidated buses every morning and afternoon. We watch sewage leak through ceilings as we walk through the halls. We see teachers — overworked and underpaid — forced to use their money to supply materials our tax dollars should provide. We see counselors stretched to the limit, acting as college advisers, conflict mediators, and mental health professionals for far more students than any individual can serve well.
We’re here to offer that expertise to those in power. Legislators asked us last year what could be done to invest in young people, and we spoke loud and clear. The single largest political attack on our schools is the attack on Georgia’s education funding — a direct attack on our state constitutional right to a quality public education.
Students — particularly impoverished, disabled, Black, and brown youth — often do not have adequate access to mental health, social-emotional, and academic support personnel. Advancement to funding will give schools the resources they need to move the average Georgia student-to-counselor ratio from 1:447 students to the American School Counselor Association recommended ratio of 1:250.
When many of us lost loved ones to this pandemic, our counselors were juggling hundreds of failing, grieving and struggling students apiece — the consequences of cutting the lifelines of qualified support systems in our schools can be deadly. School counselors can save lives, prevent dropouts and help students in crisis.
Additionally, Georgia’s school funding model exacerbates preexisting disparities for disabled, Black and brown, immigrant and low-income students, who combined make up the vast majority of all students in Georgia’s schools. Our families from around the world immigrate to Georgia each year, but the schools we attend can barely afford school buses and substitute wages, let alone English language learning courses.
If we want an education system that meets the needs of all of Georgia’s students, we need to provide additional funding to the more than a million impoverished Georgia students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Systems like poverty and racism continue for generations unless interrupted — lawmakers can disrupt the harm Georgia youth face by directly funding our futures.
As students, we know that our schools should act as beacons of support that can provide us with the resources we need to grow socially, emotionally, and academically. Schools are spaces where the youngest among us learn about ourselves, the world around us, and how to solve challenges — including bullying, a hard math class, a learning disability, or navigating living in an entirely new country.
Our current school funding formula is older than today’s graduating class — and older than many of our parents. But more importantly, every year we neglect to fix this formula is a year we neglect Georgia’s future and the people who inherit it — us.
During last year’s session, students asked our lawmakers to treat this serious problem with urgent and serious action — our families pay our taxes every year with the expectation that leaders will spend our funds on our communities. It’s time to return those funds to the schools which serve over 1.8 million children.
With a new legislative session underway, we ask lawmakers to listen earnestly and act in the name of Georgia’s future. Georgia’s students are here to speak up and speak loudly on behalf of our generation and the kids who come after us: It’s time to fully and fairly fund our schools.
Harrison Tran (15, Jenkins High School, Savannah-Chatham County)
Taylor Reynolds (17, Duluth High School, Gwinnett County)
Annie Ware (17, Carver Early College High School, Fulton County)
Forest Hill (17, North Hall High School, Hall County)
Abigail Harris (18, Alliance Academy for Innovation, Forsyth County)
Maariya Sheikh (17, Campbell High School, Cobb County)
Hunter Buchheit (17, Walton High School, Cobb County)
Hannah Lee (17, East Coweta High School, Coweta County)
Eddie Madden (17, Paul Duke Stem High School, Gwinnett County)
Ayomide Lowo (14, Sprayberry High School, Cobb County)
Kalei James (17, Seckinger High School, Gwinnett County)
Hritvi Ahuja (15, Northview High School, Fulton County)
Aroob Javed (18, Norcross High School, Gwinnett County)
Bennett Hylen (16, Decatur High School, DeKalb County)