A well-rounded education now includes environmental literacy, according to the Obama administration.
"A Blueprint for Reform," the administration's amended proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), has for the first time carved out room in the budget for environmental education. The proposed bill, No Child Left Inside (NCLI ), is among the administration's signature competitive grants and if passed would provide $500 million over five years to states that develop superior environmental and outdoor education plans.
Maryland is one of several states that have already passed an environmental literacy policy, which was passed in January 2009. One of the plan's core initiatives is strengthening students' connection to nature during the school day by providing meaningful outdoor experiences, implementing environmental graduation requirements, creating green schools and green school grounds and incorporating environmental education into all grade levels.
"We're working closely with the education sector," says Elena Takaki, program manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "We want to ensure school systems are prepared to give students a quality experience."
Facing scarce financial support, Maryland is hoping to be a candidate for the potential NCLI funding. According to Takaki, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has acknowledged the state is facing tough economic times but is forging ahead with elements of the plan that are possible with existing state funding. Program Open Space, which acquires recreational space for public use, found $2 million available within the state budget. Some initiatives— Unprecedented Move for Environmental Literacy such as adopting an environmental mentoring plan and environmental literacy standards—cost next to nothing. However, costly components of the plan, such as developing outdoor education centers, may have to wait.
"The state is cutting the budget, but that doesn't mean we won't aim for it," says Takaki.
"We are beginning to talk with superintendents to see what it is that they need, and when funding does become available, then we're ready to go."
According to the National Wildlife Federation, environmental education has a measurably positive impact on student achievement in science, reading, math and social studies, in addition to overall behavior and attitude.
"Having skills to address environmental issues is important," says Patrick Fitzgerald, director of education advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation. "Students should be prepared to move into these fields as they move into their career and into college."
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) originally introduced NCLI in 2008. The bill passed with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives but ultimately failed in the Senate. Fitzgerald hopes that NCLI will continue to gain bipartisan support and pass when ESEA reauthorization moves forward.