Environmentalists Urge Bush To Resurrect Unit In Education Department

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Washington--A coalition of environmental groups has asked President-elect George Bush to give the Education Department a leadership role in putting precollegiate environmental education "back on the federal government's agenda."

As part of its sweeping "Blueprint for the Environment," a panel of leaders from 18 organizations in the field has recommended that the department re-establish an office of environmental education, at an estimated annual cost of some $20 million, to act as a national clearinghouse for programs designed to teach the conservation ethic.

"We're not asking for a massive federal bureaucracy," said S. Douglas Miller, vice president of research and education for the National Wildlife Federation, who headed the committee's task force on environmental education. "A lot can be done at the local level. We know where the talent is, the talent's in the classroom."

'Presidential Leadership'

The proposal to resurrect the environmental-education office is among 700 recommendations contained in the coalition's manifesto, which was drafted by the leaders of such organizations as the Friends of Earth, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Zero Population Growth.

Though the bulk of the recommendations concern federal energy, land, and water-use policies, a summary states that "[t]here also is an important role for education ... [because] citizens are not likely to follow willingly if they do not understand and support the directions of their leaders."

The policy statement was developed over the course of a year specifi4cally for delivery to the new President after the November election. According to its summary, the report represents a mandate for action from the organizations' collective membership of 6 million people.

The recommendations "are directed to our new President, not the Congress, the states, or individual citizens," the document says, because "in many areas the missing ingredient is Presidential leadership."

Mr. Bush received a copy of the manifesto from a five-member delegation of environmental leaders in early December. A spokesman for the President-elect said that Mr. Bush, who has described himself as both a ''conservationist" and an aspirant to be "the education President," was unlikely to comment on any of the recommendations until after his inauguration.

'Working Against Indifference'

The Education Department's re-entry into the field of environmental education, where it was given authority by the now-defunct Environmental Education Act of 1970, is one of 23 measures the coalition says federal agencies should undertake to revitalize an area of the curriculum that has largely become the responsibility of local governments and private concerns during the Reagan years.

Federal leadership is essential, the report suggests, because proponents of "exemplary programs" at the local level are "often working against indifference."

When the Congress overwhelmingly approved the Environmental Education Act in response to the fledgling national conservation movement, the document says, "America was poised for international leadership in this important endeavor."

But appropriations during the act's 12 years of existence never exceeded 0 percent of recommended levels, it8adds. As a result, "[l]ittle of the promise of the [act] has been attained," the report concludes, while the "environmental concerns that led to [its] passage ... have worsened."

Education Is Stressed

Noting that the almost 50 million children attending elementary schools in the 1990's will graduate from high school in the 21st century, the document asks: "How are we preparing them to analyze and solve the complex array of environmental problems they will encounter?"

The Education Department, it says, should "develop environmental curriculum prototypes [from exel10listing local programs] at every level of education from preschool through continuing education."

Mr. Miller said that although news about such issues as global warming, known as the "greenhouse effect," has raised the public's awareness of environmental hazards, an extensive education program is called for because "we need an environmentally literate citizenry" to change conditions for the better.

'Diffused' Expertise

Establishing a clearinghouse within the department, the coalition suggests, would enable the federal government to encourage the exchange of information between its agencies and to provide assistance to state and local education agencies in developing programs.

Such an office also would allow the department to assess the development of environmental education, and to act as a "link between the formal education community and environmental groups," the report states.

Expertise in the environmental-education field is "diffused" among schools, local governments, and private agencies, the report says. "What is needed to efficiently use this talent," it maintains, "is a source of funding for materials development, production, evaluation, implementation, and teacher training."

Conference With Cavazos

The seven education measures the report urges include the following:

That Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos appoint a National Advisory Council on Environmental Education to "facilitate state and regional acceptance of national pro4grams" and encourage cooperation between government and private endeavors. The estimated annual cost of such a measure was put at between $500,000 and $1 million.

That the department disseminate model environmental-education programs, including inservice and preservice programs for teachers, developed at the state and local levels. Such a program would cost $5 million a year, the document estimates.

That the department establish a "challenge grant" program to match state funds for hiring local environmental-education coordinators. The estimated annual cost would be between $2 million and $2.5 million.

That Mr. Bush issue an executive order "requiring each federal agency to develop goals and objectives for environmental education" based on recommendations of the proposed office of environmental education within the department.

The costs of the specific activities proposed for the Education Department would be in addition to the $20-million budget required for the revived office of environmental education, Mr. Miller said.

Over all, he said, the document's recommendations were made "revenue-neutral" through proposals to levy or increase taxes and users' fees.

"A lot can be done merely by re-allocating existing resources," he added.

He also said that the cost estimates were the "weakest part" of the recommendations on education because the existing data are out of date.

Mr. Miller said that the committee's next step in advancing its agenda will be to present its recommendations to Mr. Cavazos and begin discussions with the department on whether the recommendations are "feasible." He added that implementing any of the proposals will necessarily "be a long process."

Vol. 08, Issue 17

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