Students with the District of Columbia’s chapter of the Sunrise Movement envision locally sourced and sustainably grown school lunches for all, pathways to jobs fighting climate change, and school vehicles fueled by renewable energy.
For months, they’ve been begging the D.C. State Board of Education to adopt their “Green New Deal for Schools” that also includes more clean infrastructure, new curriculums, and climate disaster plans, The Washington Post reports.
It’s all part of a national Sunrise Movement that started at dozens of colleges with demands to divest from fossil fuels that has since shifted to high schools. The effort inspired by Democratic New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s wildly expensive Green New Deal in 2019 is now a “climate revolution” that promotes racial and economic justice, and union jobs, in addition to its a 10-year timeline to fix the changing climate.
“We’re running these local campaigns to build bases,” Adah Crandall, the movement’s national organizer, told the Post. “The ‘Green New Deal for Schools’ is not about getting recycling bins in our cafeterias. It’s about fundamentally transforming our entire school systems to face the climate crisis.”
The group coaches students to lobby school boards and school leaders to support the movement’s demands, and after several months, students in DC were successful. Swelling to nearly 80 students, the DC chapter recently swayed the DC school board to approve the plan.
Now, they have their sights set on winning over the 13-member DC Council, which makes all final decisions on adopting and funding their demands.
“Our energy is not running out,” Zoe Fisher, junior at School Without Walls, told the Post.
Despite limited funding and dismal student performance, the city council seems to be receptive. Overall, only 33.6% of DC students meet or exceed basic expectations in English, while only 21.8% meet that threshold in math, according to 2023 assessment results at DC.gov.
While the student demands aim to force leaders to shift more of the district’s limited taxpayer resources to fighting the changing climate, they are learning some skills they might not be in the classroom.
“You have accomplished something that many professional advocacy groups have not been able to do as effectively or as thoughtfully,” state board member Allister Chang recently told students. “Your upcoming challenges will require you to move from this macro-level conversation to more and more micro-level analysis regarding budgets, program designs, supply chains (and) legislation.”
The board’s decision to adopt the Green New Deal for Schools is only the second victory so far for the national campaign across more than 50 high schools that started in September. Students at Colorado’s Fairview High School persuaded the Boulder Valley School District Board of Trustees to approve a similar resolution in late November, Common Dreams reports.
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In Colorado, Boulder Valley board president Kathy Gebhardt “urged the students to take their advocacy beyond Boulder Valley to local governments and the state Legislature, saying most school districts in the state are struggling to pay teachers and don’t have the resources to add solar panels or buy electric buses,” the Daily Camera reports.
In DC, council member Janeese Lewis George noted the Green New Deal for Schools will need “to go through multiple committees” before it’s a reality, though many of its suggestions are already in the works.
Many parents believe improving the current academic performance of the district’s 50,000 students should be the primary focus, but the Sunrise Movement has convinced the decision-makers there’s more important issues on the horizon.
“I think the ‘Green New Deal for Schools’ resolution represents a bold vision for what our education can and should look like, especially in an era where climate change poses a massive threat to our way of life,” Lewis George told the Post. “It’s a lot of work, but I know we’re up for it. And it’s incredibly important that we get this right.”