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Older teens in Newark, N.J., will soon have a say in who runs their schools

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Older teens in Newark, N.J., will soon have a say in who runs their schools. And we're not talking about an election for class president.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Newark City Council approved an ordinance that lowers the voting age for school board elections to 16.

ANJALI KRISHNAMURTI: We were absolutely ecstatic, and we're so glad that it did pass.

FADEL: It's a victory for Anjali Krishnamurti, who co-founded the grassroots organization VOTE16NJ.

KRISHNAMURTI: It'll enfranchise about 7,000 16- and 17-year-olds in the city of Newark, which is huge, and finally gives them a say about the formative decisions about their futures, their educations and their livelihoods.

MARTÍNEZ: Now a freshman at Harvard, Krishnamurti has been campaigning for years.

KRISHNAMURTI: It's so important for young people in Newark, especially since 90% of them are Black and brown and underrepresented, to have a voice and finally learn the responsibility of civic duty.

FADEL: It wasn't without opposition, though. Critics argued before the city council that 16- and 17-year-olds aren't ready to make big ballot decisions. Krishnamurti disagrees.

KRISHNAMURTI: We have many responsibilities at 16 that we're kind of forced to assume. Many of us have to pay taxes. We're allowed to drive. We can emancipate ourselves. So 16- and 17-year-olds are granted several rights that prove their maturity.

MARTÍNEZ: Newark follows other places in California, Maryland and Vermont, where 16- and 17-year-olds will get to vote in local elections. Krishnamurti hopes it signals a broader recognition of teenagers' capabilities and contributions.

KRISHNAMURTI: Now that they have the opportunity to tangibly put their voice to use through the vote, these officials are more inclined to listen to young people. They're more inclined to visit schools. They're more inclined to learn about their desires and how they want their future to look.

FADEL: If implemented, the Newark ordinance would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote beginning this April.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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