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Solution: Differences between the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the National Environmental Education Act (NEEA)

In 1970, the Congress enacted the first Environmental Education Act to authorize the then-U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to establish programs to support environmental education at the elementary and secondary levels and in communities. In its statement of findings and purposes, the Congress found “that the deterioration of the quality of the Nation's environment and of its ecological balance is in part due to poor understanding by citizens of the Nation's environment and of the need for ecological balance; that presently there do not exist adequate resources for educating citizens in these areas, and that concerted efforts on educating citizens about environmental quality and ecological balance are therefore necessary.'' Grants for curriculum development, teacher training, and community demonstration projects were made available for several years under this Act, but the program expired and was not reauthorized.

In 1990, the Congress enacted the National Environmental Education Act (NEEA) to renew the federal role in environmental education. The Congress once again found that “current Federal efforts to inform and educate the public concerning the natural and built environment and environmental problems are not adequate.” The NEEA expired in 1996 and has not been reauthorized, though Congress has since continued to appropriate funds to EPA for the NEEA programs.

Including environmental education in NCLB serves a very different purpose than the function of the NEEA in four important ways:

1. First and foremost, NCLB directly influences state/local education policy and directly impacts what takes place in our nation’s classrooms on a daily basis. NEEA does not. NEEA is a 37 year-old Act that has no significant role in or influence on national k-12 education policy, as it was primarily intended to directly support both formal (k-12 and higher education) and informal environmental education programs at the local level.  

2. While both include a teacher training program and grants to k-12 formal education, the scope of the NEEA goes beyond this to include undergraduate and graduate internships and fellowships, awards, establishment and funding of the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, and grants to higher education and informal education as well as k-12.

Regarding the two areas of superficial overlap (k-12 grants and teacher training):

3. The focus and purpose of the formal k-12 education grants also differ. The original purpose of NEEA was largely to provide small grants to “seed” nascent activities in the then-new field of environmental education. The Act limits EPA grants to a maximum of $250,000 (and in practice, only 1% of the grants exceed $100,000 and only 6% exceed $25,000). Furthermore, the Act in practice also mandates that about 2/3rds of all the grants be $5,000 or less. The result is that the average EPA education grant is about $10,000, and the majority are $5,000 or less.  About half go to non-profit organizations, one sixth to schools/school districts, and another sixth to colleges and universities. On the other hand, NCLB funds go largely to schools/school districts, and involve much larger sums for much different purposes.

4. The NEEA mandates that funds for the teacher training program be awarded to only one institution of higher education or non-profit, whereas NCLB teacher training funds are much more widely and effectively distributed. Furthermore, the NEEA teacher training program reaches nonformal as well as formal educators (and is thus more accurately called an “educator” training program rather than a teacher training program).

In sum, NEEA is a broader Act than NCLB in that it touches all environmental education sectors and also provides a number of additional functions such as internships and awards – all with a very modest amount of funding ($5.5 million in FY07). NCLB is more narrowly focused on k-12 only, yet it has a much bigger impact through the significant changes it has brought about in both school policy and funding in virtually every public school in the country.