The Bay Watershed Education and Training program, which helps develop programs to provide Chesapeake region students with outdoor environmental education experiences, would face elimination under the budget proposed by President Obama in April.

The budget calls for funding for B-WET and a number of other programs aimed at promoting science, technology, engineering and math education to be consolidated into the U.S. Department of Education, Smithsonian Institution and National Science Foundation.

The change would likely halt the roughly $2 million a year that B-WET has spent to promote hands-on learning experiences for students and training for teachers in the Bay watershed.

"It is the largest sustained investment in environmental education from a federal agency in the Bay," said Shannon Sprague, manager of environmental literacy programs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay Office, which administers the program.

B-WET was established, largely through the efforts of former Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes, in 2002 to support the Bay Program's goal of ensuring that every student in the watershed had a "meaningful watershed experience" before graduation. Such an experience integrates outdoor and classroom activities that help students understand the local environment.

B-WET was later expanded into a national program with environmental education initiatives that cover eight coastal areas around the country, including the Bay.

Sprague said B-WET has emphasized the development of pilot programs in schools that can become self-sustaining over time. "We are trying to embed environmental education based on science into school divisions around the country with the hope they continue programs beyond the funding," she said.

Since its initiation, the program has reached about 420,000 students and 16,000 teachers. Follow-up surveys have shown that students who participate in B-WET funded programs have both increased their knowledge of issues facing the Bay, and improved their understanding of actions they can take to protect it.