Landmark Bill Passed to Fund ‘Outdoor Classrooms’

Bill Taxes Some Electronic Equipment to Help Improve Outdoor Education for NM Children

March 30, 2007
Contact: Erica Asmus-Otero (505) 660-7017/ Erica.Asmus-Otero@state.nm.us

SANTA FE – A landmark bill that could transform learning for New Mexico school kids has been passed by the New Mexico Legislature. House Bill 1232 imposes a one percent (1%) excise tax on the purchase of televisions, video games and video game equipment in New Mexico, to create the "healthy kids outdoor fund," which will be used to fund outdoor education programs.

"Just like taxes on alcohol and tobacco, this concept would support programs that can counter a number of academic and social problems in children, because outdoor learning is a powerful antidote," said Rep. Chasey.

"Kids need more ‘green time’ and less ‘screen time," said Dave Simon, Director of New Mexico State Parks.  "With New Mexico’s unmatched beauty and natural lands, our state can and should lead the nation in outdoor learning programs."

HB 1232 supports the recommendations of a 2005 joint study by State Parks and the Public Education Department (PED), "Making New Mexico Schools Work Outdoors—Educación al Aire Libre", which found that outdoor, interactive education can improve student academic achievement, increase standardized test scores, reduce discipline problems, increase teacher job satisfaction, increase enthusiasm for learning and build resource stewardship and citizenship skills.  The Children and Nature Network has compiled a report listing 20 premier research studies on the benefits of connecting children to nature.

The New Mexico Outdoor Classroom initiative is an effort to increase outdoor education across New Mexico, utilizing state parks and other local, state and federal public lands, ranches, nature centers and other locations.

"This visionary idea will help us accomplish our goal to ensure that every youth in the state is provided an outdoor experience; this could have national implications, especially since we believe this approach hasn’t been tried anywhere else in the country," said Michael Casaus, New Mexico Representative of the Sierra Club’s "Building Bridges to the Outdoors" program.

"We want children to be able to connect with nature, and this bill could shape the future of New Mexicans’ interaction with the outdoors," said Audubon New Mexico Education Manager, Eileen Everett.

"Teachers understand the importance of bridging the gap between learning through books and learning through nature, but lack the resources to do this," said Albuquerque Teachers Federation President, Ellen Bernstein. "This approach is an innovative way for children to learn by doing."

While the use of televisions and video games is not the only reason why New Mexico school children are losing connections to nature and are prevented from having positive outdoor learning experiences, there is a strong connection between the issues.

The average American youngster now spends more time watching television (1,023 hours per year) than in school (900 hours per year).  Studies show that watching over 10 hours a week negatively affects kids’ academic achievement.
In addition, studies show a link between "screen time" (watching television or playing video games) and childhood obesity, both nationally and locally.  According to the New Mexico Department of Health, 22 percent (22%) of NM children between ages 2-5 and 23 percent (23%) of high school students are overweight.  The percentage of American children who are seriously overweight has risen from 5 percent in 1964 to 15 percent in 2003.

HB 1232 establishes a dedicated revenue source to support outdoor educational and interpretation programs. Money from the "healthy kids outdoor fund" will go directly towards:

  • Curriculum based programming for teachers in outdoor locations;
  • Hands-on teaching materials for children;
  • Transportation costs to transfer students from schools to outdoor classrooms; and
  • Creation of nature-oriented physical activity programs for children.

It is estimated that the "healthy kids outdoor fund" will receive approximately $800,000 annually.  HB 1232 is believed to be the first time that this particular mechanism has ever been proposed in the U.S. to fund outdoor learning programs.
The "No Child Left Inside" initiative is a nation-wide effort to reconnect children with the outdoors.  Efforts nationwide have been rejuvenated and inspired by the publication of Richard Louv’s book, "Last Child in the Woods; Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder."  According to USA Today, "A back-to-nature movement to reconnect children with the outdoors is burgeoning nationwide" (USA Today, Nov. 21, 2006).

For more information on HB 1232, contact New Mexico State Parks at 888-NMPARKS (888-667-2757) or www.nmparks.com.