Report calls for state support of schools in combating climate change

Climate change will have “increasingly severe impacts on early childhood and K‑12 education” — particularly from more frequent wildfires and extreme heat waves, according to a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO).

“More frequent wildfires and extreme heat waves will increase the likelihood that schools and child care providers will need to respond to climate-driven emergencies and public health issues,” researchers wrote. “More extreme weather events and conditions also negatively affect student learning, school facilities, and district budgets. While confronting the effects of climate change will be challenging, the consequences of inaction could be even more severe, and will worsen over time as climate change impacts become more frequent and intense. In many cases, schools will struggle to prepare for these impacts on their own and will need state guidance and support.”

Challenges range from more frequent climate‑related school closures requiring quick shifts between in person and remote learning to higher and more volatile cost pressures in dealing with the wide‑ranging impacts of climate change — from increased utility bills during heat waves to significant recovery efforts following major emergencies. Additionally, school facilities will require modifications to withstand the harsh impacts of climate change, the report states.

What should the state do to support schools?

Researchers note that the Legislature has supported past efforts to address the impacts of climate change on early childhood and K‑12 education through funding for wildfire recovery efforts, but more must be done to be proactive.

“The Legislature will want to consider how the state can support schools in preparing for and responding to more frequent climate‑driven emergencies and public health issues,” according to the LAO. “Steps could include directing state departments to ensure that schools are adequately included in statewide emergency planning, providing funding to districts for emergency management planning and facility risk assessments, and supporting plans to maintain continuity of services when impacts occur.”

The state must also consider its role in supporting recovery efforts in situations where schools and communities are severely impacted — which types of recovery services should be handled by the state versus local educational agencies or communities? The Legislature should also consider how the state should assist schools in managing the costs of preparing for and recovering from climate change impacts, especially for schools that face the greatest risk and/or have less financial capacity to prepare and respond to climate change.

What can LEAs do to combat climate change locally?

CSBA’s Climate Change Task Force released a separate report in May, CSBA Climate Change Task Force Report: Recommendations and strategies for California public schools to address the climate crisis, which included several recommendations to support district and county leaders in addressing climate change.

Strategies and solutions for tackling climate change are wide ranging and can be accomplished through multiple avenues, including adopting K-12 curriculum on environmental literacy, encouraging student input and strategically using purchasing authority. For instance, when considering facilities upgrades or development, “focus on materials, ventilation, landscape design and energy use, among other factors. Note that green spaces and gardens can keep schools cooler, and drought-resistant landscaping will reduce water use,” the task force wrote.

Steps are also being taken at the federal level to support schools’ climate efforts.

On May 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began accepting applications for a piece of $500 million in funding for electric school buses. It’s the first installment of $5 billion for low- and zero-emission school buses over the next five years under President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The EPA will continue accepting applications through Aug. 19, 2022, prioritizing applications that will replace internal-combustion buses serving high-need LEAs, tribal schools, and rural areas, although actual funding in the form of rebates will still be awarded through a lottery system, according to the agency. In addition to new buses, rebates can also be applied to charging hardware, the EPA said. Learn more about the program here.