While Gov. Tim Walz recently offered many good ideas to improve education, there’s something major missing. Unfortunately, the 22-member team that produced recommendations did not include a single youngster. What’s needed is more listening to and learning from high school and college students like Cole Stevens, Zeke Jackson, Claire Westra, Anaa Jibicho, and Lincoln Bacal. Not every idea any of us has is great (that includes me). But some students’ suggestions expand opportunities, won’t cost more and sometimes save money.

Let’s get specific.

Zeke Jackson, from Little Falls, a former Postsecondary Enrollment Options student and now executive director of People for PSEO, and his colleagues have several suggestions to legislators. None will cost more money, yet each will help students prepare for college. PSEO saves students, families and taxpayers millions of dollars a year. Among other things, People for PSEO is asking legislators to:

• Expand eligibility for state funds already allocated to help low-income PSEO students travel to college. The group suggests allowing high schools willing to transport the students to receive this money, as well as the individual students.

• Permit students to register for PSEO courses after the May 31 deadline if their school hasn’t provided state-required information about the program.

Jackson, who’s 20 years old, helped convince legislators to change the PSEO law so that state universities treat high school and college students equitably when it comes to online courses. Previously, at least one state university allowed adult students to take as many online courses as they could handle. But the university limited PSEO students to one, reducing options for thousands of students who don’t live near a college or don’t have a car. Legislators listened and made the no-cost change Jackson suggested.

Another student Anaa Jibicho, a St. Paul district graduate now at Stanford, has recommended allowing “lunch money” to follow students from high schools to college. He’s explained that students from low-income families receive free lunch if they’re in high school, but not if they are taking courses on a campus. That’s under discussion.

Finally, high school student Claire Westra, from Fulda in southwestern Minnesota, helped convince legislators to do something else to help students that doesn’t cost more money. Westra persuaded legislators to increase access and opportunities by requiring that high schools allow students to use school computers to take PSEO courses.

Unfortunately, Center for School Change research (which I helped conduct) found in January 2020 that more than 90% of 98 districts and charters in a random statewide sample weren’t telling students about this. State law requires posting up-to-date information on school websites and in materials given to students.

A fall 2020 review found that while there has been some progress, 75% of the districts and charters still don’t have all the required information on their websites. You can find what Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker has told district and charters is required information here: https://education.mn.gov/mde/fam/dual/pseo/023615.

The Walz-Flanagan proposals do include something that high school students Cole Stevens, of Bloomington, and Lincoln Bacal, of Minneapolis, suggested last year. They pointed out last year that many students are using jobs to help pay basic living expenses — food, rent, heat, etc. The administration is recommending (and several Republican and DFL legislators support) changing Minnesota law so students can receive unemployment insurance if they lose their jobs. The Walz-Flanagan proposals are found here: https://education.mn.gov/MDE/about/plan/.

Thanks to staff of U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith. They recently met and welcomed suggestions from Bacal, Jackson and other youth.

Young people offer important insights into what is and isn’t working. I agree with Youthprise, a statewide organization (https://youthprise.org/). They’ve urged local, regional and statewide groups to include young people and to seek their suggestions. Of course, they won’t always agree, and their ideas aren’t always practical. But youth have been, and can be, sources of powerful, cost-effective solutions for important problems.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school educator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change.

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