AUGUSTA — Maine stands to share in millions of federal dollars to expand environmental education into the general curriculum, the state Department of Education announced today.

A unique new agreement among Maine agencies and environmental education groups is set to help Maine students graduate from high school as environmentally literate citizens.

The Maine Department of Education is overseeing development of an Environmental Literacy Plan for the state’s K-12 public schools. It will help Maine qualify for the federal environmental education funding and compete for environmental education grants.

The department is drafting the plan with help from environmental educators with Maine Audubon, the Maine Environmental Education Association and the Maine Department of Conservation’s Maine Forest Service. The agencies and organizations signed an agreement last week that outlines the responsibilities of the parties.

“This is a significant opportunity to take advantage of excellent environmental education resources in Maine and work together to make sure environmental sciences are an integral part of the K-12 curriculum,” said Anita Bernhardt, the Department of Education’s science and technology specialist. “It’s critical that Maine students graduate from high school understanding environmental science-based concepts and connections that help them be environmentally literate. Health, living conditions, technological development, the economic future, and people’s relationship with nature are all shaped by environmental actions.”

Bernhardt said those charged with drafting Maine’s Environmental Literacy Plan would seek input from education, business and government leaders. The process will include Maine teachers, higher-education faculty, natural-resource agency staff, conservation and sporting groups, health professionals, and industries including fishing, forestry, energy development, tourism and recreation.

“Together with our stakeholders we will create forward-looking active educational approaches that help Maine students achieve a deep understanding of the 21st century’s complex, environmental issues,” Bernhardt said.

Coined in the late 1960s, the term “environmental literacy,” and the environmental education strategies and goals it represents, have won significant endorsement by K-12 science, technology, and math educators who are preparing today’s young people for post-secondary education and careers.

“Being environmentally literate means you’re able to recognize the components of healthy environmental systems and take appropriate action to maintain, restore, or improve their health,” says Kara Wooldrik, Maine Audubon education director. “Just as reading becomes second nature to those who are literate, interpreting and acting for the environment becomes second nature to environmentally literate citizens.”

This year, for the first time, the proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Education includes funding to help state and local education authorities improve students’ environmental literacy skills. The goal is to help boost environmental education in the classroom as well as enable schools to help more children have opportunities to get out and learn about the natural world around them.