As the sponsor of L.D. 1902, a bill to establish a pilot program to encourage climate education in Maine public schools, I appreciate that the Press Herald’s editorial board (Our View, Jan. 27) is concerned about whether the proposed program will be accessible to educators in school districts with fewer resources. I agree that a school’s budget should not determine the availability of the resources for climate education, and that’s why I have been working hard with advocates and other policymakers to ensure that, unlike the effects of climate change, these educational resources are shared equitably.

That is exactly why this bill has been informed and developed by a diversity of voices for over more than a year, including students, teachers, administrators and community organizations across the state. This was reflected clearly during the bill’s public hearing, with 21 students, 27 educators and 34 organizations testifying in favor, as well as parents and other civic leaders. None was opposed. As we are seeking to build equitable outcomes, our process must be equitable as well, and the process that has brought this bill to where it is today reflects that.

Making climate education more accessible was one of the strategies laid out in the Maine Climate Council’s four-year plan. In addition to lowering our greenhouse-gas emissions, developing clean energy and preparing our communities, we need to be investing in the next generation of Mainers because the effects and new opportunities from climate change will be numerous and fast to manifest. Many teachers and students know this and they have asked for resources to expand their knowledge of the subject. This bill is neither new curricula nor a mandate. Instead, it will support schools to meet the existing Next Generation Science Standards in climate science, as well as to lean into the interdisciplinary nature of the science.

My bill puts that strategy into action by supporting educators who are asking for more professional development and by leveraging community partnerships with organizations that want to help and that exist in all counties in Maine. As written, the grant awards under the pilot program must be prioritized for underserved communities and students, including tribal schools, schools with high populations of students who receive free and reduced-price lunches, rural and remote schools, students in alternative learning environments, students of color, English language learners and students receiving special education services. The bill authorizes the Maine Department of Education to hire a staff person to administer the pilot program for three years, and to establish standards and an application process that supports these underserved students and schools. Unlike a top-down education mandate, this proposal will give school districts that want to improve their climate education the resources they need to apply for grants and create partnerships with community organizations.

Throughout the development of Maine’s four-year climate action plan, my colleagues on the Climate Council and I worked hard to consider unintentional consequences that may arise from Maine’s strategies for climate action and the ways in which climate policy can better serve lower-income and marginalized communities. Soon, the Equity Subcommittee of the Maine Climate Council will be releasing a full report on their assessment of the climate council’s strategies with recommendations for improvements. With this climate education bill and all other policies we are working on to address the climate crisis, I am committed to finding solutions that serve the people of Maine equitably.

I look forward to continuing to advocate for my bill to pilot a climate education grant program in Maine and ensuring that, with it, school districts from lower-income areas will be prioritized in getting access to these resources and partnerships. It’s critical and timely that we give young Mainers, no matter their economic status, ZIP code or race, the tools to live, work and succeed on a rapidly warming planet.

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