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No Child Left Inside grant program could get $2 million

A popular, two-year-old grant program that has funded dozens of environmental and natural resources education and recreation activities for youth could get additional funding.

Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville), HF76 would allocate $2 million in fiscal year 2022 from the General Fund for the Department of Natural Resources-run No Child Left Inside program.

Funds would be allocated through a newly created outdoor engagement account.

The bill, as amended, was laid over Thursday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. It has no Senate companion.

No Child Left Inside is aimed at connecting more youth to the outdoors, especially kids who otherwise wouldn't have access to outdoor activities, Becker-Finn said.

After the program's establishment in 2019, the DNR solicited grant applications in two phases, asking for requests under $5,000 in October 2019 and requests between $5,000 and $49,999 that winter.

Requests in the first phase were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

Between the two phases, the DNR received about 620 grant applications requesting over $6.2 million, Outreach Coordinator Jeff Ledermann said. Two-thirds of requests were submitted during the first phase, including 200 within six minutes of the application being open online.

"We were blown away by the response," Ledermann said.

In total, the DNR awarded 93 No Child Left Inside grants. They went to everything from a bass fishing club at a Hmong charter school to a Dakota youth outdoors program.

Ledermann said grants for underserved audiences were prioritized in phase one, with 39.7% of participants in funded programs qualifying for free or reduced-price school lunch.

Environmental groups and advocates of outdoor education are encouraging the Legislature to fund the program again next year and said it's smart to help children develop a passion for the outdoors.

University of Minnesota graduate student Hannah Geressu suggested setting aside funds for Native American tribes.

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