Climate and Environmental Justice Literacy Budget Request

At the start of 2022, we partnered with the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter’s Climate Literacy Committee to produce a letter urging state government to execute a climate literacy implementation strategy focused on solutions and scale to meet the climate emergency. The information below provides additional context on the budget request letter.


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.


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:

  1. Environmental and climate literacy leadership* at the state level responsible for systematically integrating interdisciplinary environmental and climate literacy at every K–12 grade level.
  2. Full implementation of the Blueprint for Environmental Literacy in partnership with the California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI) currently doing this work.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


Sarah Ranney, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, Climate Literacy Committee |

Linda Livers, Project Management Consultant supporting Ten Strands |


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

Senator Dave Cortese and a coalition of seven other legislators submitted a letter to the Senate supporting this effort and Assemblymember Luz Rivas submitted a support letter to the Assembly.

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