Today’s first-grader will be 34 in 2050, old enough to have a first-grader of her own.

By then, today’s 6-year old will know whether the efforts started by her parents’ generation were successful in halting global warming before it unleashed catastrophic changes to the climate. Her child could be around at the century’s end and live in a thriving, carbon-free world economy or in a time of flooding, drought, famine, abandoned cities and billions of refugees.

No subject is more important than climate change for a child now entering school. To understand the crisis and society’s response, you need some grounding not only in biology, physics, chemistry and math but also in civics, history, economics – even psychology.

A proposal now before the Legislature aims to bring the teaching of climate science up to the level of the crisis itself. We like the idea, but are not sure this is the best way to get it done. Unless lawmakers can be sure that this program will not disproportionately help wealthy districts that don’t need help, we think this money could be put to better use.

The bill, L.D. 1902, sponsored by Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York, would use $3 million from the state’s surplus to create a professional development grant program for Maine teachers who want to work with area nonprofits to create new curricula.

As more research is focused on climate, some of what even younger teachers learned in college is already out of date.

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But even though the law is written to prioritize “schools and communities historically underserved by climate science education,” we are concerned that not every school district will be able to access the money.

We share the concerns raised by Courtney Belolan, executive director of the Maine Curriculum Leaders Association, at the public hearing on the bill Tuesday.

“Offering of grants can often present a problem of equity since many of the schools and districts that could most benefit from the grant do not have the capacity to write and manage the grants,” Belolan’s prepared testimony said.

She also questioned whether there were enough community-based groups to partner with the kinds of rural and tribal school districts that the law would target, and she points out that it is unclear how the state would judge the success of the programs that it funded.

Those are all good questions that lawmakers should answer before they vote on a measure like this.

Another question they should answer is whether specific curriculum decisions are best made by part-time legislators in Augusta, or by teachers and administrators around the state under the supervision of an elected school board. In the past, top-down mandates by the state government have delivered headlines but haven’t always showed up in the classroom.

For children now in school, climate change will likely be the issue that shapes their world, and educators should be looking for creative ways to engage with them on it. But Maine does not need more inequality between school districts.


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