"Public schools belong to us, and we know we deserve better," said a Sunrise Movement organizer and the youngest school board member in Idaho.
In the face of right-wing attacks on public schools—including climate education—more than 50 high schools nationwide launched the Green New Deals for Schools campaign Monday.
The campaign, organized by the youth-led Sunrise Movement, is demanding that school boards and districts act to provide buildings powered with renewable energy; free, healthy, local, and sustainable meals; support for finding well-paying, unionized green careers; plans for extreme weather events; and instruction about the climate crisis.
"The Republican Party knows that they don't have the youth vote," Aster Chau, who organizes for Green New Deal for Schools while attending the Academy at Palumbo in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said in a statement. "They've spent the last few years antagonizing students and teachers—eroding trust in public education—in order to distract from all of the problems they've created in our society. Today, we say no more—these are our schools and our futures."
The push comes as lawmakers in Republican-controlled states have increasingly attempted to mandate what can be taught in the classroom. In Georgia, for example, a "divisive concepts" law prohibits teachers from discussing nine race-related topics. This would include the unequal impacts of the climate crisis, The Guardian pointed out, and has had an overall chilling effect on educators' willingness to raise political issues in the classroom.
"We don't learn about climate change at all," 16-year-old Summer Mathis, who studies at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, told The Guardian.
In Texas, meanwhile, education officials are imposing their views on climate science textbooks, and in Idaho there is an ongoing dispute over whether or not the climate crisis can be included in the curriculum at all. Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis has approved the use of PragerU Kids materials, which include climate denying and pro-fossil fuel talking points.
"It's really scary knowing that I'm underage, and can't vote to elect the people making these big decisions about our futures."
Beyond curriculum building, there are many things that schools in all states can do to better prepare for and fight the climate crisis.
Currently, public elementary, middle, and high schools use around 9% of the energy consumed by commercial buildings in the U.S., Lisa Hoyos, the national climate strategy director for the League of Conservation Voters, wrote in an op-ed for The Progressive Friday. Switching them all to renewable energy would have the same impact as removing 18 coal plants from the grid.
Schools can also do more to prepare for extreme weather events. In Philadelphia, for example, Chau started school during a heatwave in a building that lacked air conditioning, they told The Guardian.
"Being a youth right now is really scary," Chau said. "It's really scary knowing that I'm underage, and can't vote to elect the people making these big decisions about our futures, not having a say in that."
The new campaign is partly a way to change that.
"For too long, students have been left out of the decision-making spaces within our schools," Shiva Rajbhandari, a Sunrise Movement organizer who is also the youngest school board member in Idaho, said in a statement. "Students are the most important constituents of our school boards, and they deserve to call the shots for their own education. Public schools belong to us, and we know we deserve better."
The campaign comes out of a camp that the Sunrise Movement ran this summer to train hundreds of high school students to advocate for themselves and their communities.
The young people have older allies as well. This week Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) will reintroduce their Green New Deal for Public Schools Act with hundreds of students present, according to The Guardian.
"Our generation is on the frontlines of this fight," 17-year-old campaign leader Adah Crandall said in a statement, "and it's time for our school districts to take real action."