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Classroom Voices

Student Voices: Here are the election issues most on teenagers' minds

November 6, 2018

A youth holds up a “Now We Vote” sign as they take part in a National School Walkout anti-gun march in Washington Square Park in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NewsHour Extra asked middle and high school students across America: What issue would you like to hear 2018 candidates discuss and why? Read their responses below and check out the election videos produced by Student Reporting Labs on how to turn out the youth vote.


Clean water

by Mahnoor I., Troy High School in Troy, Michigan


In Michigan, water is political. Though we are surrounded by 84 percent of North America’s freshwater supply, disparities in the quality of water have led to devastating ramifications for many communities. The administrative failures of the Flint water crisis, the level of PFAS pollutants 20 times higher than the EPA limit in the town of Parchment’s municipal water system and recent water shutoffs in Detroit schools due to contamination are deeply troubling issues — issues that still have not been adequately addressed. Lives have been lost, public health has been implicated and livelihoods have been shattered, as a result. Therefore, I would like to see Michigan’s midterm election candidates discuss substantive and detailed solutions to these problems instead of expressing empty sentiments about how water is a fundamental human right.


Free in-state college tuition

by Destiny C., 12th grade, Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago, Illinois


From the time a child is enrolled in kindergarten, they are urged to take the steps that are necessary to achieve a successful college career. In recent years, however, the price of a good college education has risen significantly, especially within the state of Illinois. We have seen cities such as New York progressively make laws that give free in-state tuition for students who qualify. I would like to ask candidates running for office where I live: Do you believe that the state of Illinois is on its way to making quality education more affordable to its citizens? How can this state improve its ability to make sure our students have equal access to education regardless of financial background?


Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the Kavanaugh hearing

by Chloe T., Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio


Oftentimes, national events float in and out of the news cycle; some linger for a week, others are gone in a day or two. Coverage of Kavanaugh’s appointment has certainly dwindled, but the heartbreak remains searing. Representation of the female experience is crucial, and candidates who do not reflect commitment to validating it do not belong in the esteemed positions they are running for. People in places of power must use their voices to advocate for the ones perpetually silenced, such as Dr. Ford’s and other victims of abuse. Though the hearing is disappointing in itself, it is the bitter product of historical oppression and shame.


Candidates must address why America places inherent trust in abusers instead of the abused. Twenty-seven years after Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas— whom she accused of sexual harassment— America failed another victim: Dr. Ford. If candidates do not address the hearing, less and less victims will come forward for fear of not being believed or taken seriously. Women will continue to believe their opinions do not matter, and that their only option is silence. When it is not silenced, they are discredited, chastised and made to feel guilty for their stories. America needs voters and politicians alike who recognize the gravity of victim-shaming. The impact extends far past the individual and to all women who feel they cannot come forward.



School safety

Joseph J., 11th grade, Lakeland School District in Scott Township, Penn.


I would like to see our candidates talk about school safety. I am currently enrolled in high school and the topic is very relevant to my peers and me. I am interested to know what stance each candidate takes on the subject and what their plans are to actually improve the safety in our schools. I feel this is a topic that only becomes important after a horrific event, like the shooting in Parkland, Florida. School safety is always an issue, however, most of the time it is ignored and things like the economy or taxes take the focus. Is money more important than children’s safety?


Support for transgender students

by Ava M., 7th grade, Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia, Virginia


We need to become more educated on how to properly accept, love and support our trans and nonbinary youth. That education should start in our schools through professional development for educators, inclusion of transgender curriculum in health class and social-emotional learning to help students learn behaviors that pertain to social health and relationships. In this case, it would include helping cisgender students understand more about transgender students, and how they can create positive relationships with their transgender classmates.


Teacher and administrator training, student education and funding for whole child education will help advance these causes, and reduce the pain and humiliation many transgender students experience daily. These are our neighbors, friends and family members. They need resources just like our cisgender students do. It is our job to vote with everyone’s best interests at heart. As a student, I ask that you vote for those who cannot yet vote for themselves.


Public education

by Morgan M., 12th grade, Lindblom Math & Science Academy in Chicago, Illinois


The Chicago Public School (CPS) system has been facing issues ever since I started kindergarten. As a product of CPS, I have witnessed teacher strikes, budget issues and poor school funding. In Englewood, my high school neighborhood, there will be four high school closings at the end of the school year. As a result, the dropout rate may increase, leading to numerous problems in the community. In most elections, education is discussed as a topic of importance. However, once the candidate is elected, education is swept under the rug and no improvements are made. Although I will be leaving CPS next year, my community will have to deal with the issues of the school system. I would like for the gubernatorial candidates to take actions that will positively impact the students and communities in Chicago.


Climate change

by Tyler, Lakeland School District in Scott Township, Penn.


In the upcoming 2018 election for Pennsylvania State Senate, Bob Casey (D) and Lou Barletta (R) are the two candidates running against one another. The one topic that should be discussed more is climate change. Bob Casey has been a longtime advocate for several programs including the Paris Climate Accord and the Clean Power Plan. Lou Barletta on the other hand has publicly said that he is not convinced that there is scientific evidence that proves climate change. Barletta has supported rolling back a number of Obama-era air and water regulations, including the Clean Power Plan, which Bob Casey supports. Would Barletta not support climate change programs if he wins the senate race? Will Casey stay true to his climate change beliefs and continue what he has done the past years in office?


Compassion for immigrants

by Jiya M., 6th grade, Phoenix, Arizona


As a young Arizonan, the issue that I want candidates to discuss in the 2018 midterm elections is immigration and the border wall in my state. Our President promised to build this wall to protect border states, like Arizona, from undocumented immigrants. At the end of the day, all immigrants are just people wanting a better life for themselves and their children, like my grandparents who escaped poverty in India. The immigrants we are trying to block with the wall are human beings escaping injustice and poverty and they deserve our compassion, not our roadblocks. I think the candidates of the 2018 midterm elections should create policies that simplify the asylum process and ensure that families are not being separated. This is the right thing to do because we are a nation founded and made up of immigrants who came here for a better life.


From a teacher’s perspective — the importance of listening to youth

by Liz Ramos, Alta Loma High School, Calif.


As an educator, I’d love 2018 candidates for the House and Senate to discuss immigration, guns, polarization and the willingness to work across the aisle and gridlock, calling Trump out on language we would not want students using and the rising college costs and student debt. I can personally attest that these are the issues that my students have the most concern about. As a Southern California teacher, immigration and how to move forward on Dreamers and refugees coming are concerns for my students, as well as our U.S. undocumented population in general. My students and school were mobilized for action unlike I’ve ever seen after Parkland- #GoodTrouble as we say in my class. You did not have to have one solution, but recognize action is needed!


Polarization and a lack of civility on both sides has been a problem for years pre-dating Trump. As the Civic Mission of Schools and CRF mention, we need to model and train our students in how to have civil conversations to be effective and productive citizens. Additionally, our leaders, whether the president, members of Congress, and others need to model appropriate behavior for our students, period. Lastly, college finances- I am saddened to see students not applying to schools that they should apply to because of costs. I recognize we cannot finance everyone and not everyone wants to go to college, but for those who have demonstrated a pattern of academic achievement and dedication, we need to do more to help them. I’d love to hear honest answers (not politician answers) to these concerns. #GoodTrouble


The power and responsibility of voting

by Manoli F., 12th grade, Francis Lewis High School, Queens, New York 


One of my goals is to see the young people voting in my community. This is very important because everyone has the right to vote. I believe that much of our youth doesn’t have an understanding of how important voting is and how the political party system works. Before voting, they should educate themselves about the political parties and the people that are running. Many of the candidates are advertising their political parties through television, radio, postcards, phone calls and mail flyers. Unfortunately, just because the advertising is well done, does not indicate how good of a politician one might be. The young people who only base their vote on the advertising alone have to realize that the wrong person for the job can be sitting in that office. Every vote matters, and youth voters must have knowledge about the political process.



The following responses were submitted on behalf of Mr. VanWagner’s 9th grade English class, Lowery Freshman Center in Allen, Texas


Mental health

I would like to hear the issue of mental health awareness in children addressed by 2018 candidates, because it is a subject that is easily overlooked by politicians. Several children who deal with mental health issues are being cared for at school through special programs. But politicians should do more to promote kindness and equality towards these individuals. They should be treated just like everybody else.



I would like the candidates to discuss how different groups of people can be right and not just a small group of their supporters. I have wondered why watch people shout at each other and yell, “You’re wrong.” Hopefully, most people can see the poor behavior of certain politicians and realize there is a middle ground.


Our candidates in Texas should discuss family separation at the border and how we can keep families together. Many undocumented immigrants come to Texas and have children who then become American citizens. However, in some cases these parents get deported without their kids. The state must then play a significant role in these young people’s lives, including sending them to children’s centers. Undocumented children must have the right to be with their parents. 


Arming teachers

I would like to see the candidates for this year’s election discuss the matter of gun control in educational facilities and the debate on whether teachers should own guns for protection of themselves and their students against intruders. If teachers were armed, there is a good chance that students or others could get ahold of the gun and hurt people around them. Public schools should be given more safety protocols and protection, but arming teachers with weapons should not be their first choice.


LGBTQ rights

I’d like to hear candidates discuss LGBTQ rights as President Trump comes close to threatening these rights, especially with the recent discussion of revoking trans rights. America’s meant to be a safe haven for people of all types: including those of different sexual orientations and identities. LGBTQ rights have been gradually improving, but recent anti-LGBTQ actions have been a huge setback. I’d like to hear candidates address the rollbacks in trans rights and show support for the LGBTQ community.


Homework and stress

I would like to hear candidates discuss the issue of homework. We have a long day of school and are expected to go home and do more work, hours and hours of it. We are still kids. We need to have free time while we still can. I propose that a limit is put on the amount of homework given each day. Most kids also have sports after school that take up a lot of time, so they have to stay up late to finish everything. It causes a decrease in successfulness because most students are sleep deprived as well. It is a serious issue that can easily be changed.


Stricter border control

I would like the candidates to talk about border control. It seems like every week there is a story about people illegally immigrating into the country. There was a story about how people drove across the border with more than the vehicle’s passenger capacity. When it crashed, many lives were taken. This could have been avoided if authorities had stopped them at the border. How did they get past our border control? Why weren’t they stopped earlier? I’m curious to see how candidates respond to these questions and what solutions they will come up with.


Less homework, more quality time with family

I would like to hear 2018 candidates discuss the workload given to students in Texas, most importantly the homework those student receive. I am bringing this matter into the light because as a student in Texas I find it hard to have quality time with my family with all of the school work I have to get done. I also find myself, and many other students, getting not enough sleep due to homework. The amount of time kids stress about school work because they have so much can lead to depression. In fact, I think school is a leading cause of depression in teenagers in America. This is why I would like the 2018 candidates in Texas to discuss the workload given to kids during the school year.


The environment and college admissions in Texas

I would like candidates of the 2018 election to discuss recycling and cleanup in my area. The trail that I bike on has quite a bit of trash by it, and there is a lot of trash in the river that I bike along. I also wish lawmakers would change the way students get into college from the top 8 percent rule (public universities in Texas are required to accept the top 8 percent of students from Texas high schools). In a large school, it is very hard to be in the top 8 percent of the class. Above all, change how writing STAAR standardized tests work because the element of being timed is hard for a lot of people.



Most things we do are not possible if the Earth is dying. With Texas’ population increasing, more and more waste will be produced. An average Texan produces 7 pounds of trash per day. I would like for the candidates to discuss what will be done about controlling waste and pollution. It affects almost everything we do and it won’t get better on its own. It’s important that future generations can have natural resources and experience what we experience.



Illegal immigration

Right now, I’m most concerned about the House of Representatives and the governor’s races. For the governor’s race, I’d like to see the candidates talk about immigration because Texas is the state that actually has to deal with the thousands of undocumented immigrants who come in. I think we need a practical way to stop illegal immigration. It isn’t fair to those who enter here legally. Controlling your border is a basic for any world power. We’re seeing the results of unchecked immigration in Europe, where thousands of people pour in and drain the economy without putting an equal part in. This isn’t out of hatred for the people, but practical reasons. Many undocumented individuals do smuggle drugs over the border. We can’t distinguish who does and who does not, but many do. They also use the benefits (protection, market, medical care, education, infrastructure, etc.) of our nation and state without paying their “fair share” in taxes to fund it.



In the House of Representatives, I’m concerned about the passing and not passing of legislation. In light of the “me too” movement, I’d like to see candidates talk about where the law can and cannot effectively act on this problem. I want to see someone who will punish people proven guilty but not assume guilt before that proof is provided.


Definition of gender

I would like to hear local candidates for Allen and candidates for Congress talk about their opinions on the news that the Trump administration is going to try and undermine transgender rights, and how they plan to define gender. This could be violating the rights of a minority who were given rights before. A lot of people do not support granting trans people rights. I would like to hear what candidates’ opinions are on the issue of defining or redefining gender, and whether they would support or go against the Trump administration on this.


Relations with Saudi Arabia

I would like to hear candidates opinions on the situation with Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. I want to know what candidates for office think the future with Saudi Arabia should be and whether or not they agree with President Trump on the matter. Saudi has asked for $110 billion in military arms’ orders. Why do they need that money? Would candidates support the arms deal? And in addition to money, what does America get in return?


Boosting support for low-income families

I would like the candidates of the 2018 election to discuss the many Americans who want to provide for their families but lack the simple necessities like land and money. How will they be treated? What new programs could be established in aid of these people? Whether they live in Allen or the whole of Texas itself, I want to hear solutions from candidates about boosting the economy and helping low-income and hardworking Americans. This is a recurring conflict in our modern world, and while there is not a 100 percent fix for it, but the more that’s tried, the more success we will have.


Gun control

For Texas, I think the most important issue is gun control. Southern states in the U.S. are known for having many guns, and while there is no problem with owning a gun if the owner is properly informed on how to do that safely, there are too many who are not. Since the Florida shooting in February, there have continued to be more shootings across the country. If I were eligible to vote, I would certainly want to be well aware of my candidates opinions on this very serious issue.


Internet privacy

I would like to hear candidates discuss the issue of internet privacy. Tools like Alexa, Siri, and sites such as Facebook may breach or have already breached personal privacy and security. I want to know what their ideas for cybersecurity include, because it may help with all of our personal information staying safe and being stolen and used against us.


ISIS and foreign policy

I would like to hear about the progress and steps taking place in the foreign affairs regarding the Middle East. It would interest me to know the different approaches that candidates are going to take towards choking the stronghold of ISIS and the Taliban without killing innocent civilians who may be under forceful influence. What is the candidates’ views on the justification of killing the people who may surround the desired targets?


Anxiety and standardized testing

I would like candidates to discuss how they plan to improve the education system in the United States, specifically as it relates to mental health. Kids all over the U.S. are suffering from mental disorders like anxiety and depression and many of those are because of school. If kids have mental health issues because of pressures from school, there is something clearly wrong with our education system. Finland has one of the best education systems in the world, and that is because they took away homework and standardized testing, so that students have more free time for extracurricular activities. Less stress improves their mental states.


Less homework

I would like 2018 candidates to discuss the issue of homework. Currently, I have hours and hours of homework every day. I would really appreciate it if the amount of homework would decrease because I have a life to live outside school. I know being in Allen is a huge responsibility, because our education program is very important. However, if I had less homework every night, I would be less stressed. School is the cause of depression. Just going to school is a struggle, and adding homework to the menu is deadly. I think, if you could lower the amount of homework in school, the world would be a happier place.



Family separation

I’d like to hear about candidates’ views on the border and our military. In respects to the border, I think that we should let people in that are trying to to make a better life for themselves and their family. If they come and commit more serious crimes such as drug dealing and murder, then we can deport them. Our country is the most culturally diverse and we need to keep that premise and let it thrive. Additionally, I don’t think that they should detain kids away from their parents. On the second topic, I want a candidate who respects and supports our military and first responders. The word brutality is often given to situations that people just don’t understand.


LGBTQ laws

I want the candidates to talk about LGBTQ laws and whether they want to limit the definition of gender or help the LGBTQ society. I feel like this is a rather overlooked topic because there are more than a million Americans that this concerns. In its second term, the Obama administration made laws that helped the LGBTQ community. With the Trump administration proposing a near complete reversal and saying that these laws allegedly went too far, I feel like this should be talked about in the debates.


Medical marijuana

I would like to hear candidates in our area talk about the legalization of marijuana. I want to know if they support making marijuana legal for people who need it for medical reasons, because it can help decrease the pain level some people feel. However, it should not be used for other non-medical related reasons.


School shootings

I would like to hear the candidates discuss the issue of how to deal with and prevent school shootings: Is arming the teachers a valid choice? I would like to hear this discussion because it is something that can affect me in my life. There are all too many newspaper headlines about these types of unfortunate incidents. By taking proper measures against school shootings, the lives of many could be saved. However, methods likes arming teachers may have a reverse effect if people abuse this privilege. We should make sure that the safety of the students is put first, and also try to help troubled students that may cause such shootings.


Global warming

I would like to hear the 2018 candidates discuss their plans to deal with global warming. Global warming is accelerating quickly and will cause lots of destruction to both humans and other animals in the future. Hearing the candidates discuss their plans for global warming will help voters decide the best candidate to vote for not only because they know who will deal with a major environmental problem best, but they will get an idea about who has the most responsibility.


Migrant caravan

For this year’s midterm, I would like to hear about the migrant caravan heading to the United States. The caravan has been offered hospitality in Mexico but they refuse and are determined to make it to the border. The Mexican military was unable to stop the caravan and I would like to hear about how politicians would handle the situation. Trump said he would bring the military if necessary and I am anxious to see how this plays out. Also I would like to hear about how each candidate will handle illegal immigration and border security in general.


Don’t talk politics

Personally, I would not like to hear the candidates speak at all. I am not the type of person interested in hearing anything controversial. It creates anxiety inside of me.


Free speech

Some issues I would like discussed would be their thoughts on freedom of speech. Anything that even slightly perturbs our free speech would definitely hurt my opinion of them. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and their ability to preach their opinion in a non-threatening way. Finally, their opinion of their own political party would be interesting. Republicans and Democrats seem to be in an unending battle that seems pointless. If the candidates are fixated on how their political party is better, then their priorities are messed up.



I would like candidates to discuss unemployment and homelessness because I can see the effects of unemployment everywhere I go. I believe it hurts the economy having so many unemployed people. I think the problem of unemployment leads to children without education and families without homes. This can all be put to an end if our candidates can find a reasonable solution to create more job opportunities.


Birth control

One issue that should be discussed is access to birth control for women. Many women could lose easy access to birth control methods. Abortion issues should also be discussed. If it is outlawed or underfunded, the procedures will still continue to be performed. Women will turn to unsafe methods for the procedure.


Russia-US nuclear arms treaty

I would want the candidates to discuss the claim to remove the Russia/US nuclear arms reduction treaty. I think the treaty was a big deal for it dramatically increased relations between the world superpowers and, arguably, saved the human race. And now all Trump wants is to undo the hard work Gorbachev and Reagan did to help better the world. I would want to see what the candidate’s stance is on this issue because it could determine if we will go into another arms race and possible nuclear war.


Teacher pay

I would like the candidates to discuss the education system and teacher pay. Teachers can really make or break a student. They can give you the proper encouragement to help you succeed or tear you down and make you feel bad about yourself. They deserve a higher pay grade because of those reasons, plus they have to deal with all the bad kids that don’t care about school.



I would like the candidates to discuss the topic of racial discrimination and how they plan to put an end to it. We constantly see acts of violence regarding racism on the news. It is now sadly apart of the norm. I believe that our politicians should focus on preventing this instead of ignoring it. They should start enforcing rules and setting up precautions that make everyone in our community feel safe and welcomed. People should not have to worry about their differences. We should appreciate others for who they are.


March For Our Lives

I would like to know the candidates’ opinions about the March For Our Lives and the Second Amendment protests and what actions they would take to prevent more school shootings. Would they prefer putting innocent kids in danger than putting restrictions on the ways to acquire a gun? What are their opinions on whether the second amendment should be interpreted loosely since it was made hundreds of years ago?



I would like to hear a discussion on the rights of transgender people, and more specifically on discrimination and bullying. Students have sometimes been forced to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are for their birth gender. Because of a lack of positive action on schools’ part, other students may feel like they are allowed to discriminate and bully transgender students. This happens with adults as well. It can be a very serious issue a person of any age has to face since being transgender is still not as accepted as it should be.


If you’re a student interested in submitting a piece for Student Voice sharing your thoughts about the primaries or Election 2020, please send an email to Vic Pasquantonio at

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