- The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) began implementing the practice of participatory budgeting in 48 of the city’s high schools this year in response to a proposal Mayor Bill de Blasio’s made last year in his State of the City address, pushing for an increase in civics education. The process allows students at most schools to create projects using $2,000 of their school’s funding and then vote on how that money should be spent, according to The Hechinger Report.
- The idea of participatory budgeting began in Porto Alegre in Brazil about three decades ago with the notion that citizens would participate more in the democratic process if they had control over how a share of the public funds were spent. A few years ago, a school district in Phoenix, Arizona, became the first school district in the U.S. to introduce the concept, and New York City is now the second, according to the article.
- Josh Lerner, co-executive director of the Participatory Budgeting Project, which is advising NYCDOE, said the process helps student learn how to identify needs, come up with solutions and persuade others to accept their ideas — all important leadership skills for success in life. Students who are involved in participatory budgeting also are more likely to vote and participate in community meetings as adults, research shows.
Students are more engaged in education when they feel that they are a part of the process. That is true of civic involvement in the adult world as well. When people feel that their voices are heard, they are more likely to become involved in the world around them.
Colleges have been experimenting with the idea of participatory budgeting to help students learn more about civic engagement for some time. Now, more high schools are starting to allow students to control elements of the school budget in order to give them a greater voice in the process and ignite their sense of how their ideas can influence the world they live in. They learn how civic engagement affects them and how to become better citizens.
Efforts to spread civics education and the teaching of civil discourse have grown in recent years, in part because of the wide division felt during the 2016 presidential campaign. Experts say creating of an educated and well-informed citizenry is one of the primary purposes of schooling, especially in a society where citizens can have a major impact on who is elected to office. While the U.S. currently has one of the lowest voter turnout rates among developed countries, involvement in participatory budgeting has been shown to increase the likelihood of voting in elections by about 7%, according to a recent study.
Participatory budgeting has academic benefits as well. As students collaborate to identify needs at their schools, come up with solutions to meet those needs, develop a plan that will fit within a limited budget, and work to persuade others to accept their ideas, they are using a host of critical thinking and soft skills that will make them better employees in the future. The art of persuasion is also an important leadership skill that can set students up for success in all aspects of their lives. And while all districts may not be willing or able to give students a portion of the budget to control, some of these same ideas can be applied by having students develop and vote on project ideas and then find ways to raise the money for these projects themselves.