Priority Legislation: Encouraging Climate Change Education in Public Schools

One of Maine Audubon’s priority bills during this, the second session of the 130th state legislature, is LD 1902: Resolve, To Establish a Pilot Program To Encourage Climate Education in Maine Public Schools.

Supported by a strong coalition of local nature-based education organizations and youth activists, LD 1902 would give teachers the tools they need to effectively teach climate science and the impacts of climate change. The bill would provide grants for professional development in K-12 interdisciplinary climate change education, and also help fund partnerships between schools and nature-based organizations to improve curriculum content to engage students in new ways. Maine Audubon has always supported the role of STEM education in helping students develop the skills to find solutions to real-world problems, and giving teachers the power to educate the next generation of climate problem-solvers will benefit us all.

Maine Audubon’s Advocacy Director Eliza Donoghue testified in favor of the bill during a public hearing before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on January 25. Read her testimony below.

Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs
c/o Legislative Information Office
100 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333

January 25, 2022

RE: LD 1902, Resolve, To Establish a Pilot Program To Encourage Climate Education in Maine Public Schools

Dear Senator Rafferty, Representative Brennan, and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in support of LD 1902, a Resolve, To Establish a Pilot Program To Encourage Climate Education in Maine Public Schools, on behalf of Maine Audubon and our 30,000 members and supporters.

Maine Audubon supports this bill. As an organization steeped in supporting and promoting environmental education for over 40 years, we have seen the bill’s strategies work firsthand. LD 1902 establishes the Climate Education Professional Development Pilot Program to provide grants for professional development for educators on climate science and multi-disciplinary climate education, as well as grants for school districts to partner with community organizations to provide instruction in climate science and climate education. The climate crisis is an ongoing challenge that today’s students will inherit, and LD 1902 would help Maine schools better prepare students for the careers and higher education they and their communities will need to thrive in the world we leave them.

Maine Audubon works with teachers, schools, and districts throughout Maine to help connect students with nature and environmental literacy, primarily within their own communities. This work is perhaps best exemplified by more than three decades of direct partnership with Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, Portland Public Schools. There, we visit classrooms and host field trips to help students learn about wildlife and habitat. We support teachers with curriculum and resources. We work with district leaders to develop programs, train teachers, and find funding. As we have expanded our reach via similar work to more schools statewide, we have witnessed both the demand for and the efficacy of improved teacher training, access to outdoor learning, and partnering with local experts available in many Maine communities. Maine Audubon also conducts numerous pre-service trainings for aspiring educators annually, meaning hundreds of new teachers start their jobs with the skills and desire to engage their students in hands on, real world learning about the environment and challenges around them. LD 1902 would support collaborations and trainings precisely like these; experiences and strategies that Maine Audubon have seen implemented successfully for over 40 years.

Maine Audubon’s reasons for supporting this bill are broad and varied:

(1) LD 1902 supports a multi-disciplinary approach to climate education. Climate education, while grounded in climate science, spans subject areas. Maine Audubon educators work across all subject areas in Maine elementary schools, and we have supported units in language arts, social studies, art, and technology classrooms at higher grade levels. We also routinely work with English Language Learning and behavioral support programs, and even Pre-K and adult education. Climate science and climate education is not bounded by subject area. Maine Audubon envisions this bill supporting cross-departmental, integrated teams that congeal around climate-related curriculum that engages students as they move from one classroom to the next.

(2) LD 1902 supports the development of relevant, engaging curriculum. As natural history educators, Maine Audubon is uniquely attuned to the power of learning about something that is quite literally out your front door. The study of familiar Maine plant and wildlife species, and the habitats we share, brings new, focused attention to the errant mushroom or bird and inspires deeper learning and observation of the natural world. Similarly, the impacts of climate change are just outside of our door. By engaging students in climate science and multi-disciplinary climate education, they will develop a deeper understanding of invasive insects defoliating trees in their neighborhoods and the prevalence of wildfires profiled on the news.

(3) LD 1902 will propel Maine students toward jobs in the clean energy economy and other evolving sectors. Governor Mills has set a goal of 30,000 clean energy jobs in Maine by 2030. This bill supports this goal by supporting education that may deepen the sense of urgency and an understanding of the opportunities presented by investing in clean, renewable energy. Climate opportunities are not limited to renewable energy jobs, however. Many sectors, from farming to tourism, are impacted by our changing climate. Multi-disciplinary climate education will help students understand and anticipate how various sectors are evolving, so that students can meet the challenges and opportunities brought by climate change across their varied interests and values.

(4) LD 1902 will provide accessible funds to under-served communities. Classroom grants, or grants that may be accessed by an individual teacher or teacher team, are more readily accessed than larger-scale, district or school-wide grants because of lesser administrative and/or bureaucratic hurdles. LD 1902 enables funding that is more accessible, implements more direct programming, and prioritizes grants to schools and communities historically under-served by climate science education, which may include schools and communities that disproportionately face grant-access hurdles.

The Maine youth of today will inherit imperiled landscapes, a changing climate, and new economies that are only beginning to emerge. Please act to help their schools better prepare them for the careers and higher education they and their communities will need to thrive in the world we leave them.

Eliza Donoghue, Esq.
Director of Advocacy