OSSE Budget Testimony of Melinda Peters – 2022

Chairman Phil Mendelson
Committee of the Whole
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004 

March 28, 2022 

Subject: Casey Trees Comments on the Proposed FY 2023 Budget for the Office of the State Superintendent for Education 

Dear Chairman Mendelson, 

Casey Trees is a DC based nonprofit with the mission to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of our nation’s capital. We plant trees, advocate for tree protection and teach students of all ages the value of our District’s trees and green spaces.  

First, thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on the Office of the State Superintendent for Education’s proposed FY 2023 budget. We commend OSSE for continued support of students and teachers and acknowledge efforts underway, however, we are concerned about the future of funding environmental literacy for youth in the district.   

As environmental educators fortunate to work with teachers, students, and staff across district schools, we have been a provider of environmental education through the past Environmental Literacy Advancement Grant and currently through a Nature Near Schools grant from DOEE. We also implement tree planting programs with schools that incorporate curriculum that meets our district standards.

We see first-hand how important outdoor learning is to student wellbeing, especially as many of our students are still experiencing learning and developmental loss from the pandemic. Studies show it can make students 50 percent more attentive to the lessons being given and 33 percent more likely to participate in future learning experiences1. These benefits help students foster creative and critical thinking and increase confidence. It can also help them develop leadership skills and build peer-to-peer bonds, decrease stress and anxiety, and mitigate symptoms of depression.

This has also been an important opportunity to support teachers and provide professional development opportunities to them in building a curriculum that incorporates outdoor/nature-based learning. Through these partnerships teachers are learning how to incorporate the outdoors to not only align with curriculum, but support social, emotional learning opportunities to students.

As a reminder, the District’s Sustainable DC Plan includes a goal for every student in the District to be taught environmental and sustainability concepts, yet we see no commitment to outdoor learning and environmental literacy reflected in OSSE’s FY 23 budget. Last year OSSE allocated $9M in federal funds to schools for outdoor learning infrastructure. This year it is unclear if there is funding for outdoor classrooms or more importantly, the programs to assist teachers in utilizing these spaces and help facilitate environmental literacy.   

Members of the DC Coalition for Equitable Outdoor Education have made clear that infrastructure without programming is ineffective. Moreover, defunding outdoor learning in this fashion creates inequity between schools who have capacity to provide field trips, environmental education, and outdoor classes and those who do not. This inequity will deepen as students without these opportunities have less exposure to academic and career opportunities that outdoor learning provides. Instead, we must invest in our terrific array of partner organizations that do amazing work in our schools.

Our teachers and students need support, and it should be available to every school in every ward. We urge the Council to ensure environmental literacy and outdoor learning are provided to every child in the District, and to commit $6.5M to support teachers and partners in this endeavor. The key here is support and investment of teachers and partners.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. If you have any questions regarding my comments, please contact Melinda Peters at mpeters@caseytrees.org.  


Melinda Peters 
Director of Education 
Casey Trees