What the Election Means for Environmental Education Moving Forward

Oceanway Middle School on Earth Day with new outdoor classroom. Flickr photo by JAXPORT.
When the dust settled on November 6 and election-weary minds began to assess how their issues would fair in a second Obama Administration, the first feeling I emoted was relief.

Over the past four years environmental education has found both a friend and foe in the Obama Administration, but at least we knew it was on their minds. Romney had been all but silent with regard to STEM, environmental education, childhood obesity and the overall health and wellness of America’s future workforce.

With the election finally behind us we can now look forward.  And as we do look forward, there are some familiar challenges ahead.  The Great Recession is still looming over us and because of this many agencies and programs are facing significant cuts in funding.   The Obama Administration essentially eliminated all environmental education funding in their FY 2013 budget request – including beloved programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This spring, outgoing Congressman Chip Cravaack of Minnesota amended a spending bill to prohibit the National Science Foundation from supporting Climate Change Education. While Rep. Cravaack will not be returning to Washington next year, the U.S. House of Representatives will very likely remain unfriendly to conservation and environmental education issues.

In the meantime however, thanks to the inability of Congress to come to an agreement on FY 2013 federal spending, environmental education has so far survived to fight another day when earlier this fall Congress issued yet another Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded at FY 12 levels. What does that mean for environmental education? Well, our programs will remain funded at last year’s levels until the 6 month CR runs out in March 2013 (or such time that Congress decides to take action).

While education as a whole was seldom addressed during the campaign, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (where we hope to attach No Child Left Inside) is long overdue for reauthorization.  The House and the Senate are far from being on the same page on the role of environmental education in ESEA, with elements of the NCLIA Act being included within the Senate bill last year but not in the House version.

We can expect that ESEA which is long overdue for reauthorization will be on the agenda for the 113th Congress.  The President expressed during his acceptance speech how important education is to America’s global competitiveness.  Although Democrats gained seats in the House this election, Republicans will remain in control with the Democrats remaining in control of the Senate.  Essentially we will be contending with the same divide.

So while there is hope for forward progress in the 113th Congress on environmental education funding and the No Child Left Inside Act, it will not happen without your help.  We must continue to hold the Obama Administration accountable for eliminating environmental and climate change education programs and urge them to support them next year.  We must ask Congress to continue funding these programs.  We must continue forward momentum with the No Child Left Inside Act in anticipation of the reauthorization of ESEA.  We hope you will join us by singing up for regular updates about the latest state and federal policy developments around environmental education as we work together on this critical issue in the coming year.

Take Action Click here to voice your support and help get America’s kids back outside!