Experts say social media has helped fuel the movement, as stories of censored students spread online. And in the current political climate—with some media outlets being dismissed as fake news—many lawmakers want to ensure that young journalists can think critically and report responsibly, Harris says.
Not everyone is on board, however. Lawmakers in Virginia and Hawaii tabled New Voices bills this year. And even with growing public support for student journalists, administrators across the country have pushed back against reporting on sensitive topics, like gun violence and teen relationships. Last year, for example, the principal of Prosper High School in Prosper, Texas, clashed with the school’s news site after he censored three articles that were critical of the school.
“To say we felt belittled was an understatement,” editor Neha Madhira, now 18, says. The principal didn’t respond to requests for comment, but he eventually agreed to let students publish future stories without his approval.
Now Madhira is leading the charge for a New Voices law in Texas.* And plenty of other teens around the country are also speaking out as a record number of states consider these bills in 2019.
As the failed attempts in Virginia and Hawaii demonstrate, however, New Voices laws can face steep opposition. But that hasn’t stopped teens from trying to protect what they believe is their constitutional right to free speech.
“Kids have to know that their voices are vital,” Madhira says. “The last thing we need is to have young people’s voices silenced.”