Green School Federal Action

As America seeks to transition to a clean energy economy for reasons of national security, economic prosperity and environmental protection, our nation requires significant investment in developing the knowledge base for the significant innovation needed to make this transition. We also need to recognize the value of a strong education foundation, especially in relevant sciences, for fostering innovation and new discoveries vital to the success of this transition. K-12 green schools provide that foundation. The concept of a green school is rapidly taking hold across the country. For example, at least seventeen states1 have green school programs, a dozen states or more2 have green school building requirements, a dozen or more national NGOs promote or operate green school programs3 and more than half of the states are creating environmental literacy plans.

Despite these efforts, there is scant evidence that they are increasing the environmental literacy of our nation's students. This is attributable to two reasons: 1) the percentage of schools across the nation making such changes remains small, and 2) schools almost always adopt only a few aspects of environmental management or environmental education, thereby limiting the impact of these changes on student learning. As a result, our nation's schools need a national authority to set a benchmark and vision for what a true "green school" is, in order to bring some coherence to the differing understandings which currently prevail while promoting existing programs. The U.S. Department of Education can set a high benchmark for green schools and encourage thousands of teachers and administrators to aim for this benchmark by launching a comprehensive "Green Ribbon Schools" program. This program would annually recognize and honor those public and private elementary, middle and high schools which demonstrate dramatic gains in both student achievement in environmental learning and also superior progress towards eliminating or reducing their environmental footprint and improving learning conditions.

More specifically, this benchmark should urge schools to:          

· Insure that 100% of their graduates are environmentally and sustainability literate;
· Eliminate their environmental footprint while simultaneously improving their
learning conditions;
· Eliminate the negative health impacts from going to school;

Under The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (PL 107-110 Part D, Subpart 1, Sec. 5411(b)(5)), the U.S. Department of Education has existing authority to "identify and recognize exemplary schools and programs," which they have done quite successfully over the past 30 years with the Blue Ribbon Schools award for academic excellence. A Green Ribbon Schools award program would also be a voluntary, consensus-based, national award which would raise the bar for schools going green. The award would emphasize state-of-the art strategies in four areas: 1) curriculum, materials, and teacher training; 2) facilities (including energy, water, waste, and indoor environmental quality) and grounds (school gardens); 3) operations (including food, transportation, building maintenance and purchasing); and 4) community engagement and service learning. The technical aspects of the award criteria would be developed by a team of experts and stakeholders under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education. The program would also involve those other federal agencies, particularly the EPA, who also have an interest in environmental literacy.

This program's primary benefits would be to: 1) give a form of permission to those within public schools who need the validation and endorsement from an authority such as the U.S. Department of Education to make change within their schools, 2) make clear the depth and breadth of change needed to truly become a green school and 3) help organizations (and states) active in supporting green school development to move in the same direction and work towards a common goal of supporting schools seeking to become Green Ribbon schools.

Each year, the U.S. education system sends over three million graduates out into the workforce armed with the attitudes, skills and knowledge to advance either a clean energy economy – or to advance business as usual. And the impact, good or bad, of each of these three million individuals lasts a lifetime. The impetus for the Green Ribbon award is clear: to help ensure our schools foster the knowledge and skills necessary for graduates to successfully thrive and anticipate this new economy.