The arrival of fall marks the end to longer days, ice cream trucks and the return to the classroom.  For some students around the country this return is often marred by preventable illness due to unhealthy school facilities—classrooms that are hampered by poor air quality and lethal infrastructure oozing with asbestos and other chemicals.

Quality education begins when a child walks into their school building not just when they open a book. How can we expect creativity and innovation when a child is ill? These are just a few of the issues that the green school movement has on its agenda.

This week Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers wrote about the importance of green schools and environmental education for the success of the U.S. in the global green economy:

“Aside from providing a huge health benefit to students and staff, constructing, renovating and maintaining sustainable school buildings are key components to an overall plan to create “green collar” jobs that will put Americans to work and give our economy a sorely needed boost

As we start a new school year, the BlueGreen Alliance released its “Policy on Green Schools and Environmental Education” brief (PDF) this week to provide a blueprint for Congress as it works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This set of policy principles focuses on the short- and long-term benefits that can be achieved by greening our school facilities and educating our kids about their environment. And there is already some exciting work happening in DC that is in line with the BlueGreen Alliance blueprint.

Flickr/D Sharon Pruitt

Recently the U.S. Department of Education, The President’s Council for Environmental Quality and the EPA joined the charge for green schools with the announcement of the  U.S. Green Ribbon Schools AwardThe Green Ribbon Schools Award seeks to recognize schools that incorporate the three pillars of greening: healthy environment, environmental literacy, and environmental impact and energy efficiency (The Department of Education recently announced that the Green Ribbon Schools program is now live for public comment  through September 14).

The bi-partisan No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act, introduced in Congress in July, seeks to put environmental education back in the classroom.  Since the advent of the No Child Left Behind law, school curricula have been narrowly focused on testing, leaving little room for anything else.  The NCLI Act would change this issue by providing states with incentives to create environmental literacy plans that would equip students with the skills necessary for success in the global green economy.

NWF is a longtime proponent of greening schools and curricula too. The Eco-Schools USA and Schoolyard Habitats programs are both supportive of the Green Ribbon Schools initiative and the Blue Green Alliance policy brief, and NWF actively works with K-12 schools to emphasize the importance of environmental education, healthy school environments and sustainability.

The world is rapidly changing and currently the U.S. finds itself at the back of the pack instead of leading it.  Environmental education is the key to our success. U.S. students cannot create solutions for 21st Century  environmental issues with an education system from the last century!