Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and the Connecticut State Department of Education are launching a new initiative to give high school students a voice in how more than $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds are spent.

Connecticut’s Voice4Change Initiative includes a total of 43 districts encompassing 77 high schools across Connecticut that have opted-in to participate, representing more than 55,000 students.

“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.”

In a press release, Gov. Lamont said that the goal for the initiative is to increase student engagement while fulfilling the Connecticut 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.”

As part of the initiative, students will be able to submit spending proposals to the Connecticut State Department of Education outlining how they propose to spend $20,000 in their school, aligned with the department’s ARP ESSER priorities.

The state’s ARP ESSR priorities are:

  • Learning Acceleration, Academic Renewal, and Student Enrichment: Resources must focus on academic supports and recovery to accelerate learning for students, particularly those disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
  • Family and Community Connections: Investing in mutually beneficial school-family-community partnerships will not only support students to achieve their full potential, but it will also strengthen families and stabilize communities.
  • Social, Emotional, and Mental Health of the Students and School Staff: Connecticut schools must be prepared to use strategic wraparound social, emotional, and mental health supports to restore and successfully re-engage school communities.
  • Strategic Use of Technology, Staff Development, and the Digital Divide: Resources should be allocated to maintain or upgrade access to technology and connectivity for the long term and to ensure that technology training and support is provided to students, school staff, and families to maximize student outcomes.
  • Building Safe and Healthy Schools: Resources may be used consistent with Federal relief funding allowable uses as a means to continue facility repairs and improvements, such as improving ventilation and providing more space for distancing. Resources should continue to be allocated to support the physical health and safety of students and staff.

The state said that proposals deemed eligible to receive ARP ESSER funds will ultimately be voted on by students at participating high schools on March 11, 2022, the one-year anniversary of when the American Rescue Plan Act was passed. The Connecticut State Department of Education, students, and the school district will then work together to carry out the winning proposals in each school. The Connecticut State Department of Education has also reserved five Commissioner Choice awards, which will be given to fulfill five innovative student proposals across the state that do not win the student vote.

“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.”

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