Berkeley Unified School District passes $65K climate literacy resolution

photo of Berkeley High School
Nick Quinlan/Staff
Berkeley Unified School District's Board of Education proposed and passed the Climate Literary Resolution, which aims to empower students to fight climate change through climate justice and environmentally friendly efforts.

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The Berkeley Unified School District’s, or BUSD, Board of Education unanimously passed a climate literacy resolution at its regular meeting Wednesday, committing $65,000 to developing a new climate change curriculum for the district over the next 18 months.

The resolution commits the BUSD to ensuring students graduate with a thorough understanding of the causes and harmful effects of climate change as well as the “actions needed to ensure a livable future” and an understanding of climate justice as a civil rights issue.

The passage of the resolution is the first of its kind among school boards nationwide, according to Sarah Ranney, a co-author of the resolution and BUSD parent, as it includes a financial commitment from BUSD rather than just a declaration of support.

“I am extremely grateful that the Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the Climate Literacy Resolution,” said Laura Babitt, the sponsoring board member for the resolution, in an email. “I am confident that BUSD will reach its goal of graduating students who are well prepared to be the caretakers of this planet and each other.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, teachers, students and parents voiced their support for the resolution. Many speakers also spoke in favor of an amendment to the resolution which identifies transportation as Berkeley’s number one source of emissions contributing to climate change.

Karen Parolek, vice chair of the city’s Transportation Commission, said during the meeting that it is important to educate students about their power to make greener transportation choices.

“It makes ever more sense to ensure that our youth are the best prepared they can be to make the hard decisions, those decisions that reverse the warming and return our planet to a pre-industrial temperature,” said Berkeley resident Rebecca Franke during the meeting.

The resolution originally proposed allocating an additional $112,200 toward implementing curriculum beginning in the 2023-24 school year, and $44,400 annually thereafter to continue the program. Due to impending budget cuts, many board members felt it was unwise to commit to the full budget estimate of $221,600 over three years at this meeting.

Instead, the resolution was passed with an initial $65,000 investment in a working group to create a curriculum plan. It includes a note that the board intends to seek out funding in the future to implement this curriculum once the group presents its findings, including a clearer picture of the funds required.

During the meeting, board members discussed seeking some of this funding from external grants. Additionally, the district will look for curricula already in use throughout BUSD containing climate literacy education to reduce costs.

“I really appreciate the thoughtful consideration for our fiscal state,” BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens said during the meeting, “I’m comfortable with where the board is landing.”

Emma Taila is a schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila.