The Boys State experience: A week of policy making and education bills

Boys State is a week-long program held by the American Legion Auxiliary for rising seniors across all 50 states. What does the program do? Boys State is a youth government program, which replicates a state’s legal and governmental system (I was in California’s Boys State). The students selected for the program get elected to various positions in the city and state and run the state like they would in real life. It is not a summer camp where you learn arts and crafts, it is not a program which prepares you for college applications, and it is not a program for those not willing to put in their whole-hearted effort. The intensity of the program matches its educational output. Normally the program is run at Sacramento State University, but this year it happened online, utilizing Zoom and Slack. So, what did I do there that made my educational experience great? At Boys State, I played the role of a citizen, lawyer, assemblyman, minority party leader, and more. And in each role, I was able to see the impact of education and its importance in use. For example, as an assemblyman, I was able to debate and pass legislations to raise teacher’s minimum salary to $60,000 a year, provide funding for the SAT, AP, ACT, and other standardized tests, and implement vocational training programs at public schools across the state. I realized that it is not easy to get bills passed and that representatives face several barriers while trying to do so.

A reason why this experience was enriching was that I was able to deep dive into the problems I often write my blogs about. My previous blogs have often been about problems under the umbrella of education, like the Digital Divide, but do not often explore governmental solutions. However, at Boys State I was able to step into the shoes of a legislator and talk about solutions from a government perspective. I realized that a government plays a significant role to help make progress on education reforms. I would like to share an experience related to this at the Boys State when I was getting a Governor’s Budget Plan passed (Governor elected at the program). Being the party leader, I presented the legislation to the assembly, and got to amend it to make it a bi-partisan one. Since education reform is something that I am passionate about, I was able to allocate ¼ of the budget towards it. From this experience, I realized that policymakers work within many constraints, and that makes it hard for them to reform things they care about. Many times, they may need to add or remove things from the bill, so the main parts get majority support and hence passed. Fortunately for me, lobbyists, donors, and other restrictions were lifted due to the nature of the program, but that experience opened my eyes up to a lot of the barriers to education reform.

Another reason why this experience was so enriching was because I was able to work and collaborate with like-minded people who cared about education reforms. That led to a collective problem solving for important problems we cared about. It was clear to me that a focused governmental action is a key to education reform. It has been a long time since most policymakers in Washington and Sacramento have been in a public high school, so it is hard for them to envision the problems that many of us face. However, since everyone in the program is currently enrolled in a high school, we were able to relate to and understand education issues at a school. It was personal for us. I learned how important it is to involve people from the education system (teachers, students, school board, education activists, etc.) while solving problems related to education. Learning from this experience, I have started to interview and survey people from various positions in the education system so I could understand the Digital Divide problem better.

Overall, it was eye-opening to see how actual elected representatives would act and speak, and on top off that I got a first-hand education on how bills get passed. To solve problems like Digital Divide, we not only need to understand the root cause issues but also run advocacy programs and work with the local and state governments to propose and pass bills. That is what would likely bring a change at a big scale. I would not have known this this without my Boys State experience this summer.

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