writing figures on chalkboard

Federal Funding for Environmental Education

The federal government currently spends less than 48 cents annually per capita on environmental literacy, of which less than half - a mere 20 cents per person - goes to the field itself in the form of competitive grants. In general, federal funds available for environmental education fall into two categories:

  1. Funding (in the form of competitive grant programs) that is designated explicitly for EE. These two resources exist:
    • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Office of Environmental Education
    • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - Office of Education and Sustainable Development's Environmental Literacy Grants Program

    The Administration's fiscal year 2006 budget proposal recommends eliminating both of these resources. You can help to prevent this by telling Congress to restore funding for these programs.

  2. Funding that is not specifically earmarked for EE, but which can be identified as available or peripherally related to the EE field. This type of funding can be difficult to recognize and separate out, making it difficult to draw many conclusions about this funding. However, one can make some educated guesses about EE funding in general:
    • The combined budget of federal agencies for environmental research and development is known to have approached $8 billion in 2003.
    • It's likely that no more than 2% of this total figure - $160 million - was devoted specifically to education.
    • The actual amount of this 2% that then went to the field itself (in the form of grants) was probably no more than $70 million.
While this may appear to be a healthy amount, it pales in light of federal investment in other subject areas (e.g., arts education).

Federal investment in environmental education: the solution to closing the literacy gap

In order for EE to attain deeper and more widespread impact, it must secure a serious investment from the federal government - including the full weight of its resources, influence, and funding - that will move beyond the federal ground work begun thirty-five years ago by the Environmental Education Act of 1970. As such, EE will not only earn its place as a significant national priority but will be assured record levels of federal funding. This funding is critical to providing educators with resources vital to implementing, maintaining, and reforming EE initiatives and programs.

Ultimately, addressing the nation's environmental literacy gap will greatly improve the local decision-making that impacts our environment while also leading to a new level of public support and leadership on environmental initiatives as well as an unparalleled increase in the adoption of environmentally responsible behavior.

Challenges to implementing the solution

Securing the commitment of the federal government requires an EE political presence and infrastructure in Washington, D.C. This presence must be built from the ground up since no proactive national campaign for environmental literacy has ever been attempted to date. Successful construction of this infrastructure and presence hinges upon the EE field organizing itself at the national level and enlisting its natural allies, of which there are many (especially business, which is also the most often overlooked).

In response to this well-defined and important need, the Campaign for Environmental Literacy was established in February 2005. The Campaign is dedicated solely to helping organize the EE community around advocating for environmental literacy via legislation, agency policy, and public opinion management. To achieve this, the Campaign must not only establish and fund real organizing / political skills, but also analyze the issues and seize the day when political opportunities arise. The latter agenda items are of particular priority, since the EE field lacks a think tank/public policy institute upon which such a campaign would normally rely.