New K-12 education law empowers states and schools & includes ‘No Child Left Inside’ provision to strengthen environmental education and outdoor learning

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congress passed a new K-12 education law that empowers schools, promises more flexibility for states, and reduces the reliance on high-stakes testing in public schools while maintaining strong oversight of student achievement. 

Included in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan bill that replaces the widely-criticized No Child Left Behind Act, is a key provision co-authored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) that will strengthen environmental education programs in schools across the country.

The Reed-Sarbanes bill known as the No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act authorizes funding to help states create environmental education plans and support outdoor learning programs and integrates environmental literacy activities into other key programs.  The Every Student Succeeds Act will allow school districts to integrate environmental education into their programs for well-rounded education as well as their afterschool programs.  The measure will support environmental education and hands-on, field-based learning experiences in participating schools nationwide. 

Reed and Sarbanes have been working together since 2007 to pass NCLI to help states and schools build environmental literacy programs, strengthen teacher training, and provide competitive grants to allow schools and non-profits to pay for quality outdoor education programs. 

Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows that children who are allowed to get outdoors during the school day are more attentive in class and better off socially and physically.

“Environmental education can have a positive impact on kids’ health, academic achievement, and understanding of the natural world.  This bill represents a major step forward, giving schools new opportunities to engage students through environmental education,” said Senator Reed.  “Teaching children about the environment and giving them a hands-on opportunity to experience nature should be an important part of the curriculum in our schools.  This new law will free up critical resources for environmental education to inspire the next generation of scientists and conservationists.  It’s a smart investment in our children and their future.”

“ESSA is a tremendous victory for advocates of environmental education who’ve fought long and hard to expand outdoor, hands-on learning programs,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “Numerous studies show the positive effect of experiential outdoor learning on student development and academic achievement. And if we can better connect youth with the outdoors, then we can help inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. I commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for passing a comprehensive education reform package that has immense benefits for students, teachers and schools across the country.”

NCLI would provide federal grant funding for teachers who design and implement environmental education programs in, and importantly, outside of the classroom. By encouraging new environmental curricula, the bill would also cultivate partnerships and strengthen relationships between school districts, colleges, environmental nonprofits, parks and other community-based organizations.

NCLI was backed by a strong, grassroots coalition of hundreds of community groups nationwide.  At the direction of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association (RIEEA) and in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Rhode Island was among the first states in the nation to fully develop an Environmental Literacy Plan (ELP), opening the door for potential federal funding that will help to equip teachers with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to integrate critical environmental and science learning into their curricula.

ESSA has already been approved in the U.S. House of Representatives and now that it has passed the full U.S. Senate today by a vote of it will be sent to the President’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law.