The students came to the Senate Education Committee with a plea for an addition to their curriculum: Teach us more about the impact of the changing climate on global populations.

Amal Mohamed, who attends Bloomington Jefferson High School, told senators she made a similar request in a presentation to staff at her school two years ago. But there have been no additional offerings, she said.

"Changes must be made because students want to learn about climate change," Mohamed said. "Even if you don't believe in climate change, please believe in your students' voices."

Several high school and higher ed students and educators testified last week on behalf of a bill sponsored by Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury.

Mitchell, a former meteorologist and freshman legislator, would direct the state's education and Pollution Control Agency commissioners to create a model to teach elementary and secondary students about "climate justice."

The bill defines climate justice as a "framework that puts people first and views the effects of climate change as interconnected with forms of oppression connecting climate change to social and economic justice issues."

No members of the public spoke against the bill, but Republican senators were skeptical.

As a former school board member, Sen. Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville, said the most consistent feedback he heard from the public was "keep politics out of the classroom."

The bill "begins to blur the line on academic instruction and what would by interpreted by some as political activism," Duckworth said.

Mitchell countered that students already learn about climate change in a "very basic way" through education about recycling, so the bill "is not a huge stretch." "If we take the politics out of it, this is actually accurate, scientific education," she said.

Sen. Julia Coleman, R-Waconia, raised her own concern about local control and students' ability to comprehend climate issues. "Until we have addressed this crisis in literacy in this state, this is ... premature," Coleman said, adding that if schools want to teach the topic, they can add it as an elective.

Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, R-Little Falls, noted his degree in wildlife biology and raised the prospect that environmental changes are caused by geology, not humans. "Are we going to be teaching geology?" he asked Mitchell.

She responded, "No, this is climate justice."

Wesenberg responded, "We need to use actual science. You can't just say this is actual science because you believe it. ... We're using these terms and making everybody think the world's going to end; it's not."

But for Rakiya Sheikhosman, an Edina High School student, climate study would be empowering. The course would, she said, "inspire young people to take action and make positive changes in their communities" instead of just feeling "distraught and hopeless."

The panel endorsed the bill and sent it along to the Senate Education Finance Committee. A House companion bill will be introduced soon, Mitchell said.