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A deep dive into Maine's response, one county at a time.

Lawmakers consider proposal to boost climate change education in Maine schools

Students learn about water filtration Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Portland, Oregon as part of a curriculum focused on climate change.
Carlos Delgado
Students learn about water filtration Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Portland, Oregon as part of a curriculum focused on climate change.

Maine environmental groups and young climate change activists are backing a bill that would give teachers a chance to beef up on climate science instruction.

The proposal creates a three-year pilot program that would allow school districts to apply for $3 million in grants and partner with nonprofits so that teachers can receive training in climate science education.

It's backed by environmental groups like the Maine Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Audrey Hufnagel, of Damariscotta is also a supporter.

Hufnagel is a high school sophomore and member of Maine Youth for Climate Justice.

She told lawmakers on the Education and Public Affairs Committee Tuesday that she's only had one class focused on climate change science even though it's her generation that will be dealing with the severity of its effects.

She said the bill will help prepare teachers and their students.

"It will not only help students acquire the knowledge to deal with the climate crisis, but it will also provide pathways for students who are interested in agriculture, engineering, renewable energy and other fields that are important in dealing with the climate crisis," she said.

However, some education groups are ambivalent about the proposal.

The Maine Principals Association submitted written testimony saying climate change instruction is already taking place in state schools after Gov. Janet Mills adopted what's known as the Next Generation of Science Standards in 2019.

The Maine Curriculum Leaders Association made a similar point while expressing concerns that some school districts that need to update their climate instruction might not have the capacity to write and oversee the grants outlined in the bill.

Both groups took a neutral position on the proposal, as did the Department of Education, which noted in its testimony that the governor has not yet outlined her funding priorities in her upcoming budget bill.

Lawmakers on the education committee will continue working on the proposal before sending it to the House and Senate.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.