“Idaho really is the state where we can solve climate change,” Shiva Rajbhandari tells me over bagels and lox at Russ & Daughters Cafe in New York City. “It’s got sun and it’s got wind and these beautiful natural spaces. And it’s a very resilient ecosystem.”
Rajbhandari, who beat an incumbent to win a seat on Boise’s school board last year, sounds like any other boosterish local elected official — except he’s an 18-year-old high school senior in the same district he governs. And he’s part of a growing number of student school board members across the country, many of whom are putting climate action at the top of their agendas.
Currently, Rajbhandari is one of approximately 500 student school board members in 42 states serving almost 20 million students. That’s according to a new organization, the National Student Board Member Association. Its founder, Zachary Patterson, is now an undergrad at Duke University. Back in high school, he first organized his fellow students to petition for a permanent student board seat on San Diego’s school board, and was then elected to the position in 2019, in a wave of student activism that around the same time pushed the district to pass an ambitious climate action plan.
As a board member he worked to keep focus on the new climate plan, helping the district get funding to convert to electric school buses. He’s clearly passionate about student power: “We believe that when students are central to educational decision making, outcomes improve.”
Now, Patterson said, student board members around the country are helping each other create comprehensive climate action plans for net-zero buildings and climate curricula, and are moving them forward in their school districts. There’s a lot of momentum around these issues: Billions of dollars in funding in the federal Inflation Reduction Act, passed last fall, were specifically designated to incentivize cutting the energy usage and emissions of the nation’s 100,000 school buildings, as well as swapping out diesel buses for electric. Student board members are working alongside groups like Schools for Climate Action (which just held a lobby day in Washington that Rajbhandari attended), Generation 180, Undaunted K12 and the Green Schools National Network.