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Public Statements

Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2004-Continued

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. PRYOR. I come to the floor today to ask my colleagues to join me in supporting Federal funding for the Little Rock Audubon Nature Center. The Little Rock Audubon Nature Center is a collaborative private-public effort to provide tools and services to historically underserved children. Using the prestige of the Audubon Society's reputation, this project will pull together all stakeholders to promote national science and math goals, environmental education, and wildlife observation.

This isn't the nature center we grew up with. This is a new concept that creates a place to learn math, science, and other academic subjects in a nurturing environment reinforced by a hands-on, out-of-doors experiences. This is a chance to support what our children learn in the classroom and in the textbooks with stimulating reality. This model of learning will stoke our children's curiosity and provoke them to start asking the questions all great thinkers pose: Why does this work?
How can that happen? What makes this possible?

Mrs. LINCOLN. I join my friend and colleague in supporting this project. I believe this will be a place that junior high and high school kids will truly enjoy and where they can be engaged. According to the Pew Foundation, academic achievement, student engagement, and teacher satisfaction all improve significantly when schools link academics with hands-on study of the surrounding environment and community and that is exactly what the Little Rock Audubon Nature Center will do.

The Nature Center site is just a 15-minute school bus ride from 50 schools in southeast Little Rock, giving it the ability to serve as an outdoor classroom for thousands of school children.

In short, this is a kid-friendly, cost-effective approach to reaching the underserved and teaching science and math. This is the kind of project this body must support to help our kids meet the challenges of the future.

Mr. PRYOR. Given current budget constraints, it is more important than even to use scarce resources wisely and I rise today to provide my colleagues with not only the numerous benefits associated with this innovative approach to educating our children, but also the costs. Specifically, I am seeking an appropriation of $1.2 million for the project but $1.2 million that will be leveraged by private funding on a better than 2 to 1 match. As Senator LINCOLN pointed out, this Center will serve thousands of children and I believe that federal investment in the Little Rock Audubon Nature Center will produce broad returns that deserve the attention of this body.

Mr. DORGAN. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. PRYOR. I would be delighted to yield to the Senator from North Dakota and our ranking member.

Mr. DORGAN. I am aware of the Senator's interest in the Little Rock Audubon Nature Center, but did the Senator say that the Center will support national science and math goals?

Mr. PRYOR. I did. The Little Rock Audubon Nature Center will assist schools in teaching the sciences of ornithology, ecology, biology, botany and environmental health, to name a few; to excite young people's minds and prepare them for careers in the sciences; and to help improve state science scores. Senator DORGAN, are you aware that our childrens' math and science scores in America are continuing to decline throughout the country? As compared to 38 countries around the world the United States ranks 19th in Mathematics Achievement Scores, according to a 1999 Trends in International
Mathematics and Science Study. I am particularly concerned about this decline in our students' performance in my home state of Arkansas. We need fresh ideas and new approaches to turn this situation around. So, I was very interested to learn of a recent study in Northwest Arkansas showed that nature education can be a very powerful tool for helping to address this problem.

Mrs. LINCOLN. What we are talking about here is stimulating the minds of children and fostering their aspirations to become our next great scientists and engineers. The education investments we make now can lead our country to the discovery of the next vital scientific finding, invention or cure. This is an opportunity to inspire our children to strive for greatness in science and mathematics and to harvest their creativity, curiosity and knowledge so they may one day help their fellow man and society at large.

Mr. BURNS. I am aware of the serious problem regarding the decline in our children's math and science scores and I am intrigued by the idea that we might address this problem through nature education.

Mr. DORGAN. Let me add to the chairman's remarks that I, too, am interested in investing in programs that support math and science.

Mr. PRYOR. I appreciate the comments from the distinguished Chairman and Ranking Member and I would like to call to their attention other benefits associated with the Little Rock Audubon Nature Center which would benefit underserved minority communities. In fact, the nature center is located in a former federal housing site for African American veterans from World War II, which has been closed for years. The center is located in the Granite Mountain community in my home state of Arkansas that lies within the boundary of a Federal empowerment zone and would serve, in particular, the minority community and school children of southeast Little Rock.

Mr. DORGAN. So this project would not only help to improve math and science scores for all children but in particular help to assist underserved communities? What other benefits would it provide?

Mr. PRYOR. The Nature Center also would provide access to a beautiful 450 acre park that is currently unavailable to the citizens of Arkansas due to inadequate city funds. This park represents one of the most unique natural areas in Southeast Arkansas because of its incredible biodiversity and a globally significant geological formation, making this site both ecologically important and of great educational value.

Mr. DORGAN. I agree that this sounds like a very worthwhile project. What Federal appropriation would be necessary to begin work on it?

Mr. PRYOR. I am seeking $1.2 million which could be phased in over a multi-year programming plan with a private fund match. I want to point out the Audubon Society's great success in my home state of Arkansas in leveraging private funding to match federal outlays for conservation projects. For example, the Audubon Society successfully restored thousands of acres of Fourche Creek by leveraging private funds to match federal dollars at a ratio of more than 2-to-1. The track record has been established and the private community has made its pledge to allow this Federal appropriation to be a catalyst for private additional investment in this worthwhile project.

Mr. DORGAN. I appreciate this thorough report about the benefits of the Little Rock Audubon Nature Center.

Mr. BURNS. Yes, I thank the Senators for the clarification. There is more to this project than suggested by its name and I hope that we might give your request every possible consideration.

Mr. PRYOR. I appreciate those remarks. I am making a personal request that the Senate give this project the initial funding needed to help it become a reality for the children of Arkansas. I thank the Senators for assistance in this matter.

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