At Roger Williams Park Zoo we don’t just offer environmental education – we advocate for it by working with community partners and supporting legislative action, on both a local and national level.
On December 9, 2015, 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) is a key provision co-authored by Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) that will strengthen environmental education programs in schools across the country.
- The Every Student Succeeds Act passed the House on December 2, 2015 with a vote of 359-64.
- It passed in the Senate on December 9, 2015 with a vote of 85-12.
- The President has signaled he will sign, which by law will be within 10 days.
- Environmental education is called out as eligible for funding under a $1.6B “well-rounded education” grants program
- Environmental literacy programs are eligible for funding as part of the $1B 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.
- The prioritization of STEM activities including “hands-on learning” and “field-based or service learning” to enhance understanding of STEM subjects may provide additional opportunities for environmental science education programs.
While we are celebrating this advance, there is a great deal that will need to happen after the legislation is signed into law. Along with our environmental education partners across the country, we will work to:
- Make recommendations to the U.S. Department of Education regarding the design of the grant programs described in Title IV of the bill
- Develop fact sheets and messages that provide state and local education agencies and their partners important information about how ESSA funds can be used to support essential environmental education programs and implementation of environmental literacy plans
- Identify and disseminate models for the use of U.S. Education grant funds to support effective environmental education in K-12 schools.
Since 2007, Roger Williams Park Zoo has been a key player in winning support for the No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act and we’ve spearheaded efforts to get other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to join the national No Child Left Inside Coalition. Introduced in the Senate by Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed and in the House by Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD), the bill seeks to authorize $500 million over five years to help states make environmental education a bigger priority in America's classrooms.
The bill would provide federal funding to train teachers to operate model environmental education programs. It would also provide funding to states that create environmental literacy plans and re-establish the Office of Environmental Education within the U.S. Department of Education to oversee critical environmental education activities. If passed, the NCLI bill could mean that more schools could take advantage of unique and valuable environmental education resources, like zoos, to provide valuable experiential learning.
The Zoo has worked with other members of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association and the Rhode Island Department of Education to shape the future of environmental education curriculum in our state, resulting in the formation of Rhode Island's first Environmental Literacy Plan. Rhode Island is now one of the first states in the nation to adopt such a plan, making it eligible to receive a portion of the federal funding that is included in the proposed No Child Left Inside (NCLI) bill.