Advocacy paid off as Congress passed two comprehensive re-authorization bills that positively impact parks and recreation. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka No Child Left Behind, was reauthorized for five years as the Every Student Succeeds Act. For the first time ever, environmental education is included as a fundable subject in the federal K-12 federal education bill. Under the Title IV 21st Century Community Learning Centers, parks and recreation agencies are eligible partners with public schools to provide environmental education inside the school room and field-based activities conducted in outdoor classrooms, e.g. parks. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers competitive grants will also support physical physical fitness/nutrition programs, which can be provided through a school and park agency partnership.
The federal surface transportation law (Highway Bill) was reauthorized for five years as the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST). Biking and walking is again recognized as an integral part of America's 21st Century multi-modal transportation system in the new law. The Transportation Alternatives Program, including Recreational Trails Program, Rails-to-Trails and Safe Routes to School (and parks), support an expanding multi-use trail systems for non-motorized transportation, and sidewalks to provide children a safe, healthy route to and from schools and in many cases parks and recreation centers. Priorities for funding transportation infrastructure projects has been largely deferred to State Departments of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations.
NRPA Public Policy team led a campaign that included NRPA and Academy members in advocating for a fully, permanently and equitably funded LWCF Act. The advocacy has paid dividends for state and local parks. This week Congress passed an Omnibus Spending Bill, including a three-year reauthorization of the current LWCF Act. Work will continue to achieve a long term LWCF Act re-authorization. For FY 2016, LWCF has been allocated more than double the $48 million that the State Assistance program received in FY 2015. It should be noted that authorized spending is still subject to the annual appropriations process at the discretion of Congress. This is progress.
LWCF State Assistance for fiscal year ending September 30, 2016
State Assistance (formula grants) $94.8 million
Grants to Urban Areas (competitive) $12 million
Administration $3.1 million
Total State Assistance: $110 million