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LA students have voice, now seek vote

Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- High schoolers this decade have stormed out of their classrooms after the 2016 election, demanding protection for immigrants. They have called for gun control in the wake of school shootings, spurring a nationwide movement.

In L.A. this year, students picketed with their teachers in the largest teachers strike in recent history. Pockets of students throughout the city are constantly involved in advocacy for better learning conditions.

Now they want more than a voice -- they want a vote.

Taking on an issue with potentially broad implications for the power dynamic in the nation's second-largest school system, the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a resolution directing the superintendent to report on the feasibility -- including costs -- of a 2020 ballot measure that would lower the voting age to 16 in school district elections. The resolution was authored by Tyler Okeke, 17, the non-voting student representative.

An estimated additional 60,500 residents would be eligible to vote if such a ballot measure passed, according to L.A. Unified spokeswoman Barbara Jones.

Tuesday's board action is preliminary -- in order to actually lower the voting age, Los Angeles city officials would have to put a measure on the ballot for voters in the district to approve. But the school board's buy-in is an important first step.


Berkeley voters in 2016 approved lowering the voting age to 16 for school board elections and the district agreed to take on costs, said Luis Sanchez, executive director of Power California, a group advocating for youth voting rights statewide.

That same year, though, San Francisco voters narrowly rejected a measure to expand voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds for school board and community college elections and local candidates and ballot measures. Opponents had similar concerns to those expressed by some on the L.A. school board Tuesday -- that teens may lack life experience or knowledge necessary to make informed decisions.

A few dozen students held a rally outside the L.A. Unified headquarters just west of downtown during Tuesday's school board meeting, calling for the district to take first steps toward lowering the voting age.

"I think at the most fundamental level, the resolution is supposed to start a conversation about the state of affairs at our district and what place students have in it," Tyler, a senior at Vladovic Harbor Teacher Prep Academy in Wilmington, said in an interview Monday.


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