California’s students are graduating from high school without a sufficient understanding of climate change causes and effects, mitigation, and adaptation.
Warming temperatures and escalating climate disruption threaten our health, air quality, water, food, shelter, and economic security, posing an existential threat to humanity and the biodiversity of our world. Climate change is happening now and is disproportionately impacting youth from Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, and low-income communities.
This budget request would sufficiently fund K–12 climate and environmental justice literacy by scaling efforts at three levels of California’s system of support for education: the state, county offices of education, and districts; also, nonformal education partnerships.
Thanks to prior work by former Senator Pavley and Senator Allen, environmental literacy has been embedded in many aspects of K–12 education and the time is right for sufficient funding to scale these efforts. Climate change and environmental justice are already included in the topics covered by California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs), and the EP&Cs are included in several frameworks (science, history-social science, health, arts, and math). Also, a climate and environmental justice curriculum is in progress. Slated to be published by June 2024, it will be another resource for teachers and students.
- In 2003, AB 1548 (Pavley) called for the creation of Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs), big ideas on the relationship among the environment, humans, and systems, and model Education and Environment Initiative curriculum. Over 13.5M environmental lessons have been distributed to over 33.5K teachers in about 60 percent of California schools.
- From 2014–2015, a 50-person task force including Ten Strands and the California Department of Education (CDE) collaborated and published a California Blueprint for Environmental Literacy. To implement the ideas in the blueprint, a steering committee, now known as the California Environmental Literacy Initiative, formed and is actively spearheading public-private environmental literacy efforts across the state.
- In 2018, SB720 (Allen) ratified the EP&Cs in education code and added climate change and environmental justice to the list of topics established in 2003 that teachers should cover to demonstrate the EP&Cs.
- In 2021, Senator Allen spearheaded an appropriation that provided $6M for climate change and environmental justice resources that will be available as open education resources for all educators in the state. Ten Strands, CDE, and the San Mateo County Office of Education are partnering to develop the resource that will be completed by summer 2024.
This budget request would invest in building capacity across all levels of the system of support for education, creating a foundation for the open education resource curriculum to be introduced as an effective tool for districts and teachers when ready.
When the state adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), there was a deliberate statewide effort to train administrators and teachers before the state adopted instructional materials (2013: adoption of NGSS, 2018: instructional materials adoption). This gave educators ample opportunity to deeply understand the standards and frameworks before selecting instructional materials.
Because climate change and environmental justice are topics that lend themselves to an interdisciplinary approach, it will be important to provide professional learning supports—where teachers learn how to construct these learning experiences for themselves. It will also be important to build the capacity of community-based organizations to join counties and districts in this work, and to connect people involved in teaching and learning with building and grounds personnel so campuses become learning laboratories for this work.
When the curricular resources are ready, they will be a much needed boost for the overall effort. The success of the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) curriculum was the inspiration for the $6M budget request. The science units of the EEI curriculum are less relevant today because they were pre-NGSS and didn’t focus on climate change and environmental justice explicitly. The new units will align to NGSS (and other standards) and will focus explicitly on these topics.
California students are graduating from high school without a sufficient understanding of climate change causes and effects, mitigation, and adaptation.
- +Supporting Data
More than 80 percent of US parents support the teaching of climate change, but 55 percent of science teachers say they do not teach it, with the top reason being that they feel it is outside of their content areas.
Climate change is explicitly referenced in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), adopted in 2013, but California has underinvested in the rollout of these standards and less than a third of students in 2018–19 met or exceeded the standards on the California science test. These results have been exacerbated by the overwhelming focus on math and English during the pandemic.
Further, in a 2020 survey by the California Association of Science Educators, the largest professional organization for science educators in the state, the primary findings were:
- NGSS implementation has not been evenly prioritized or supported by districts and administrators in California.
- Even though the State Board of Education approved NGSS-aligned instructional material in 2017, the majority of teachers work in settings without materials aligned to the NGSS.
- Teachers have not received adequate professional learning in the NGSS or in their adopted instructional materials (if they’ve adopted any).
Sufficient funding is missing for education administrators and teachers to fully and equitably implement climate change and environmental justice programs for all students. The California legislature has provided billions of dollars in infrastructure investments and policy changes to address climate change. However, one of the most effective ways of reducing the impacts of climate change is to educate our youth on the causes and effects of climate change, what can be done to address it, and how to be prepared for their future.
Integrate climate and environmental justice education in every subject, at every grade level in age-appropriate ways, with alignment to standards and the Environmental Principles & Concepts to inform students of the causes and effects of the climate crisis and ways to address it—one of the most effective ways of encouraging long-term support of actions to mitigate climate change that also supports intergenerational learning.
This can be achieved with sufficient funding to build California’s education system of support capacity for climate and environmental justice education through district implementation, county support, and the state through the California Department of Education in partnership with the California Environmental Literacy Initiative, a public-private partnership coordinating this work.
The one-time funds requested in the letter would stimulate the sector for five years, after which counties and districts would implement local strategies for continued funding.
More Details on the Fund Request
The details below accompany page two of content in the letter.
$40M would fund:
- Environmental and climate literacy leadership* at the state level responsible for systematically integrating interdisciplinary environmental and climate literacy at every K–12 grade level.
- Full implementation of the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy in partnership with the California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI) currently doing this work.
- The establishment of environmental and climate literacy as a focus of pre- and in-service professional learning, curriculum design, and instruction with organizations currently doing this work, e.g., the California Subject Matter Project.
- Coordination of capacity building at the county offices of education (COEs) and district levels, including collaborations with community-based partners, as outlined under 2 and 3 below.
*Funding leadership could mean fully staffing an office at the California Department of Education (CDE) or that CDE partners with relevant organizations that are already leading this capacity-building work, e.g., the California Environmental Literacy Initiative. The letter proposes that leadership also sustains funding streams for environmental and climate literacy efforts.
$60M would staff all 58 COEs with an environmental and climate literacy coordinator for five years. All coordinators would share resources and learn from COEs already modeling this work.
This request total was inspired by the San Mateo County Office of Education, a leading county among several in climate and environmental justice literacy, and its environmental literacy coordinator’s salary and benefits for five years in all 58 counties. A regional structure like the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association’s 11 regions could instead be used to accommodate smaller counties.
$100M would be granted over five years to districts that apply to fund interdisciplinary climate literacy instruction implementation. Priority will be given to districts in communities most impacted by climate change.
After the five years of appropriation funding, districts’ existing curriculum and instruction staff could absorb the efforts funded by the grants, and at the county level, the existing and new environmental and climate literacy coordinators could continue the efforts. San Mateo County Office of Education could model sustained funding strategies for other COEs prior to the close of the appropriation funding.
At the state level, funding after five years could be sustained by the state to align with the governor’s goals for California to be a leading state in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Compared to other states and countries (Washington State, New Jersey, Italy, the United Kingdom, and more), California has made an insufficient commitment to education as a key strategy to meet the climate emergency. The California Department of Education currently has one part-time person focused on climate and environmental justice literacy as a part of a broader STEM focus. Children and young people worldwide reported climate anxiety, feelings of betrayal, and distress correlated with perceived inadequate government response to climate change.
We are seeking $200M through an appropriation during the California May budget revise.
Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter’s Climate Literacy Committee of volunteers partnered with Ten Strands to garner support for the budget request from eight legislators and more than 270 stakeholders.
- +More Details
More than 120 organizations and 150 individuals have signed on with their support, including Sierra Club California, Ten Strands, California Environmental Literacy Initiative, California Federation of Teachers, Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, and Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Photo credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images