New Jersey Becomes First State to Require K-12 Climate Change Education

June 4, 2020 Updated: June 4, 2020

Climate change will be taught in the classrooms from kindergarten to high school in New Jersey, under the new standards adopted by the state Board of Education on Wednesday.

The new standards, which is going into effect September 2021, require school districts across the Garden state to add climate change education into all seven teaching areas, including science, health, social studies, arts, and world languages.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s wife Tammy, who championed for the incorporation of climate change into the state’s K-12 curriculum, said it is important to make sure all New Jersey public school students learn about climate change, because they “will feel the effects of climate change more than any other generation.”

Speaking to the State Board of Education following the approval on the new standards, she said the New Jerseyans “have already begun to experience the effects of climate change,” citing sea level rise on the Jersey Shore, superstorms, and extreme summer heat.

“A top priority of my Administration has been to reestablish New Jersey’s role as a leader in the fight against climate change,” said Gov. Phil Murphy, adding that climate change education helps prepare children for future “new green jobs” as New Jersey is steering towards a “green energy economy.”

The Democratic governor unveiled earlier this year his plan to “wean the state off its century-old addiction to fossil fuels.” To achieve the goal of 100 percent “carbon neutral” energy, New Jersey is implementing a host of regulations, such as requiring builders to take carbon-dioxide emissions into consideration before seeking permission for a project, the first of the kind in the United States.

Former Vice President Al Gore, a climate change advocate and Murphy’s ally on environmental issues, welcomed the new education standards, saying in a statement that the students will be depended upon to lead the future fight against the “climate crisis.”

Climate change has long been a controversial topic in public education. A 2019 NPR/Ipsos poll found that the support of climate change education roughly followed party lines. According to the poll, 9 in 10 Democrats and two-thirds of Republicans believed climate change should be taught at public school, whether they have children or not.

In other findings, nearly 90 percent of public school teachers agreed that climate change should be taught. However, less than half of them said they had actually raised the subject in their classrooms. As for parents, only 45 percent of them said they had ever talked about climate change with their children.