The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the No Child Left Inside Act of 2008, amending the National Environmental Education Act and authorizing $14 million in 2009 for the implementation of “environmental literacy” programs.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the legislation will raise discretionary spending by $24 million between 2009 and 2012. At press time, the bill was headed to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
If implemented, the legislation, passed by the House in September, would require states to submit environmental literacy plans to the U.S. Department of Education in order to receive additional funding provided in the bill.
State environmental education plans would have to meet nationally determined objectives such as preparing students to understand climate change and natural disaster resilience, reducing the risk of “nature-deficit disorder”—alleged child behavioral problems resulting from insufficient time spent outdoors—and improving teachers’ knowledge of environmental content.
States would be required to include specific content, courses, and environmental literacy assessment methods in their plans. The bill also includes provisions for promoting the environmental education teaching profession.
Expanding Government Control
In order to receive grant funds, state environmental education plans would be subject to oversight by the U.S. Department of Education.
To be eligible for funding, state education officials would work in conjunction with natural resource agencies to craft a K-12 plan that teaches students about environmental challenges, reduces the risk of nature-deficit disorder, and provides opportunities for professional development.
The bill has the support of environmental groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and teacher unions such as the National Education Association. They note children today spend far less time outdoors than did previous generations. Proponents of the bill claim it will help combat problems such as hyperactivity and obesity resulting from excessive time spent indoors.
Opponents of the bill, however, say requiring students to display “environmental competency” as a prerequisite for graduation would expand the government’s role in education and indoctrinate children in a particular political agenda.
Federal Giveaway to Activists
Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute in Washington, DC, said the bill is little more than a federal handout to environmental interest groups.
“There’s no question what this bill is: A federal giveaway to Gore-esque environmental activists,” McCluskey said.
“If parents want their children to learn about threats to the environment, that’s fine, but environmentalists should have to compete in the marketplace of ideas, not be handed federal bucks and captive audiences by sympathetic politicians. But this is what we get when we ignore the Constitution and let the feds into our schools,” McCluskey continued.
Critics note the bill does not address the academic crisis facing many of the nation’s public school children.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one-third of the nation’s fourth-graders scored below basic in reading in 2007, as did 26 percent of eighth-graders. Mathematics comprehension is not much better, with nearly 30 percent of eighth-graders scoring below basic. Nationally, graduation rates languish around 74 percent.
U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) voted against the bill, which he said “creates a new, unnecessary program at the Department of Education, adds additional layers of bureaucracy, and mandates that teachers divert their attention from other core subjects.
“It would implement a new policy that would be just as difficult to monitor from Washington as No Child Left Behind,” Hoekstra concluded.
Lindsey Burke ([email protected]) is a research assistant in domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.