By Veronica Wilson, LNS California Organizer
California teachers, education, and health advocates took a major step toward winning on climate in May when the California Senate unanimously passed (39-0) SB 394, a mandate to create a master plan for healthy, sustainable, and climate-resilient schools.
The vote moves the state closer to committing to the Climate Ready Schools Coalition’s vision – green grass under playground structures, children arranging seedlings in burlap wall planters, a teacher in hiking boots facing eager young learners surrounded by redwood trees. Making this vision a reality requires securing funding in the state budget and making sure schools in low-income areas are first in line.
Who will install the solar panels and upgrade the HVAC systems to heat pumps in the 730 million square feet of school buildings? Are there school staff who know how to maintain school learning gardens on the 125,000 acres of the K-12 school footprint in the state, or repair the zero emission buses? These questions were of keen interest to the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and other members of California Labor for Climate Jobs, a statewide coalition organizing a worker-led transition to a just and climate-safe economy, which supports the Master Plan in part because of opportunities to ensure equity and quality union jobs.
The potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making climate-resilient spaces is particularly urgent. Teachers and students in California have been forced to sit and lay on the floor of classrooms when wildfire smoke blankets the region; last Labor Day temperatures reached 116 degrees; and recent winter storms flooded schools in the Central Valley.
The Master Plan for Sustainable and Climate-Resilient Schools will show how K-12 infrastructure investments can meet the state’s carbon-neutrality targets while promoting educational equity, strong labor standards, and the health and safety of children and workers. The bill is now moving on for consideration by the California Assembly policy committees.