Take It Outside: Sarbanes, Reed, Collins Introduce No Child Left Inside Act to Help More Students Get Outdoors and Grow


illustration of news with magnifying glass and green leaves



Press Release


Natalie Young | Rep. Sarbanes
Chip Unruh | Sen. Reed
Annie Clark | Sen. Collins

Take It Outside: Sarbanes, Reed, Collins Introduce No Child Left Inside Act to Help More Students Get Outdoors and Grow

NCLI would provide educational, environmental, economic, health and social benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced legislation to bring locally developed, high-quality environmental education programs to more schools nationwide by authorizing federal assistance to states to develop and implement environmental literacy plans. The bipartisan bill would also promote professional development for teachers on how to integrate environmental literacy and field experiences into their instruction and establish competitive grants to help schools partner with colleges and non-profits to expand research-based practices in outdoor education.

Sarbanes and Reed first introduced the No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act in 2007. A provision of the bill making state and local level environmental literacy programs eligible for existing federal funding was enacted as part of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.

Recent studies show that children and adolescents today are spending less time outside than previous generations and more time on screens. Encouraging students to spend more time outdoors has many benefits for their development and future, including:

  • Better school performance;
  • Increased health and fitness and improved cognitive function and more creativity;
  • Less depression, stress, and hyperactivity;
  • More exposure to natural light and lots of outdoor physical activity improves children’s natural sleep rhythms; and
  • A longer life span and healthier adult life

“Environmental literacy skills are crucial to our environmental, economic and public health future,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “Expanding these programs will connect more students to the world around them and help them succeed in all areas of life. Now that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act have made historic investments in combatting climate change and creating clean energy jobs, it’s essential that we also bolster the programs that will help the next generation understand the urgency of protecting our environment and give them the opportunity to explore their passions. Environmental education programs have proven track records in Maryland, and we must continue working to bring the same opportunities to students across the country.”

“We hear all the time from parents who are worried about screentime and social media’s downsides. This bill addresses those concerns by getting kids outside, off their screens, and learning more about the natural world around them. High-quality environmental education has so many positive impacts, from reconnecting kids with nature to health benefits, to boosting math and science test scores. The No Child Left Inside Act will help more states provide effective environmental education programs and integrate environmental literacy and outdoor learning into other core subjects. Ensuring students understand the natural world prepares them to navigate environmental challenges that impact our communities. Our bipartisan bill will help more kids get outside and ensure they are learning about the world around them,” said Senator Reed. “Every child, regardless of their zip code, should have access to environmental education opportunities. Outdoor learning helps teach kids so many lessons, from academic enrichment to character development. This is a smart investment in helping kids grow and achieve their full potential.”

“Maine’s abundant natural resources and pristine environment make it an idyllic place for children to grow up,” said Senator Collins. “From our western mountains to our rugged coastline and all of the lakes, ponds, forests, and rivers in between, there are endless opportunities for young people to explore and enjoy the outdoors. Our bipartisan legislation would help states integrate environmental education into their core curriculum and establish an outdoor education pilot program so that students can learn more about the native flora, fauna, and ecosystems in their own backyard and be inspired with a lifelong love of nature.”

The No Child Left Inside Act would provide federal grants to states for partnerships between school districts and parks, natural resource management agencies, educator preparation programs and museums or other organizations with expertise in engaging young people with real world examples of environmental and scientific concepts. The legislation would also establish a pilot program for outdoor education programs that offer intensive, hands-on learning experiences, such as residential programs and summer camps.

The No Child Left Inside Act also seeks to help coordinate federal efforts on environmental education. It would require the Secretary of Education to establish an environmental literacy advisory panel to coordinate and report on environmental literacy activities across federal agencies and provide easy access to environmental education resources through the Department of Education’s website.

When children explore the outdoors, it increases their physical activity level and may also help boost their self-esteem and improve their academic performance in other subjects. A study by the American Institutes for Research shows that children who participated in outdoor education programs significantly raised their science test scores by 27 percent, as measured by a pre- and post-survey administered immediately upon their return to school.

The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Shontel M. Brown (D-Ohio), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.).

The No Child Left Inside Act is supported by a broad coalition of nearly 100 local, regional and national organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, North American Association for Environmental Education, National Science Teaching Association, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Campaign for Environmental Literacy. See here for the full list.

“Today’s students live in a world dominated by technology and challenged by disinformation about climate change. They rarely learn about, much less experience, how important a clean, healthy environment is to their future and the future of this planet,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Environmental Education Tom Ackerman. “No Child Left Inside would make a desperately needed down payment to help students develop the connection to nature and the critical thinking skills necessary to be creative environmental problem-solvers. CBF appreciates Rep. Sarbanes’ unwavering commitment to promoting environmental literacy in the Bay watershed and around the country. We are proud to endorse his legislation and urge Congress to give environmental education the priority it deserves.”

“We are thrilled with the re-introduction of the No Child Left Inside Act,” said Judy Braus, Executive Director of the North American Association for Environmental Education. “This bill will be transformational in providing more equitable access to environmental and outdoor learning opportunities for all students. It will support state efforts to equip teachers with the training and resources they need to engage students in environmental educational experiences that increase academic achievement, promote environmental stewardship, and improve overall health and well-being.”

“The No Child Left Inside legislation is a win-win for America’s schools and students. It supports kids, from all social and cultural backgrounds, learning in real world environments and the outdoors. This will help make them healthier, love learning, support applied skills in science and technology and promote effective team work while also preparing them for future challenges,” said Kim Martinez, Vice President for Education and Engagement at the National Wildlife Federation.

“The National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) proudly supports the No Child Left Inside (NCLI) Act, which encourages the synergy of district’s formal and informal education to integrate environmental education into their programs. NSTA appreciates that this legislation has an increased emphasis on teacher professional development and believes it will help our nation’s science teachers,” said Erika Shugart, Ph.D., Executive Director of the National Science Teaching Association.

“Environmental education provides the types of learning experiences that are shown to improve academic performance, critical thinking skills, and personal growth and life-building skills. It also helps alleviate the anxiety and despair so many of our young people are feeling about the climate because it provides opportunities and agency to develop solutions to the problems we are facing. Across this country there are countless community organizations, agencies, and experts who are uniquely poised to meaningfully partner with schools and teachers to provide high-quality professional development, develop powerful interdisciplinary programming, and design effective outdoor learning spaces. The NCLI Act is exactly what we need to make sure that our emerging workforce has what it takes to be competitive in the growing green and blue economies,” said Jeanine Silversmith, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association.

See here for bill text.