Calif. Nat'l Parks don't make the grade

A new report was released by the non-partisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) that praises the quality of national park education programs.

However, the report points out that thousands of California's children are turned away each year because the National Park Service has insufficient funding and staff.

More than 50 education leaders statewide have endorsed the NPCA report, reflecting the widespread bipartisan support for increased funding for America’s national parks.

This issue is of great importance to educators and brings much concern to the teachers of the central valley. For Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is only a few hours away from home which makes it much more convenient for a class to travel to.

"Our two national parks in our back yard, and a lot of students have never been to the park," said Tulare County Superintendent Jim Vidak. Vidak said the parks are a "hands on opportunity of education enhancement."

"I strongly believe in protecting the great state of California's national parks, and see them not only as amazing places to recreate but important living classrooms for school children," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues and the administration in increasing funding for these national treasures, for our heritage and our children."

"California's national parks offer tremendous outdoor learning resources for students, teachers, and schools," said California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, one of the reports endorser's.

O'Connell said that national park education programs "provide not only diverse academic lessons, but inspire the next generation to become responsible stewards of our precious natural and historical resources."

Budget shortfalls have caused a reduction from five to one permanent education staff members, and overall the number of public education rangers is at the lowest level in more than a decade.

According to NPCA's report, 10 additional employees and increased funding would enable the park to educate 168,000 more students each year.

"In my 30 plus years as a high school teacher, I have led more than 100 field trips to all corners of the Yosemite regions with my students during all seasons of the year," said Maynard Medefind, a biology teacher at Atwater High School. "For most of them, these expeditions represent the greatest educational adventure of their lives."

Although Congress has regularly increased funding to protect the national parks, the Park Service budget has failed to keep pace with needs. As a result, education programs and staff are being cut in national parks across California and throughout the country, leaving Park Service educators without the necessary resources to keep up with growing demand from teachers, students, and parents.

According to the NPCA report although more than 80,000 students are educated and inspired in California's national parks each year, that represents only 1 percent of the 7 million students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in the state.

The Bush Administration will announce what the budget will be for the fiscal year this month. NPCA has hopes that part of the budget will be contributed to NPCA.

"National parks are our country's most powerful living classrooms," said NPCA Senior Outreach Manager Diane Boyd. "Part of providing a high-quality education to our children is ensuring access to the unique learning opportunities in our national parks.

To do that, Congress and the administration must work together to increase operational funding for the National Park Service above and beyond current levels."

The NPCA report, Making the Grade: Educational Opportunities and Challenges in California’s National Parks, reviewed education programs from 11 national parks in California representative of the range of education programs available in the state’s geographically diverse national parks.

To receive a full report go to For more information contact Laura Whitehouse at National Parks Conservation Association, 434-3947.

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its members, and partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come.

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