Issue Brief: The Living Schoolyards Act


The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) encourages creative planning, design, construction, and management of the natural and built environment that promotes active lifestyles, fosters social interaction, mitigates the impacts of the climate and biodiversity crises, addresses environmental justice, improves contact with nature, and more. These principles should be applied to the planning, design, construction, and renovation of schools across the nation.

ASLA also supports the development and use of varied environmental education efforts that promote an understanding of the interdependence between natural and built environments, in which the highest priority programs should focus on the youth, environmental resource managers, and policymakers.


School districts are one of the largest land managers in almost every city and town in the United States. The land management choices made by schools and districts directly impact students’ experiences and the well-being of the surrounding community. On-campus green space, including living schoolyards, can provide hands-on learning experiences for students and have community-wide benefits. Such benefits include stormwater management, rainwater collection, carbon sequestration, air quality improvement, wildlife habitat restoration, extreme heat mitigation, and ecological resiliency.

Living schoolyards are park-like outdoor environments at elementary or secondary schools, which may include climate-appropriate trees, plants, cultivated gardens, outdoor meeting and gathering areas, natural playgrounds, and other elements designed for the students and surrounding community.

Landscape architects have the technical knowledge and creative skills necessary to transform underused outdoor spaces into park-like environments and outdoor classrooms. From developing master plans, leading community engagement, creating designs, and assisting with outdoor education lesson plans, landscape architects are equipped to steward these projects through grant selection, design, construction, academic evaluation, and more.

Bill Summary

On May 10, 2023, Senator Martin Heinrich (NM) reintroduced S.1538, the Living Schoolyards Act. This measure would help transform elementary and secondary schools’ outdoor spaces into living schoolyards and outdoor learning environments. Specifically, this measure would provide planning and installation grants to schools to reshape their schoolyards into dynamic living schoolyards that may include native shade trees and other vegetation, natural stormwater management projects, natural playgrounds, and more. The measure would also provide grants for schools to create outdoor classroom spaces so that students may have increased opportunities to experience nature while learning outdoors.

The Living Schoolyards Act will help to ensure students across the country have equitable access to nature in their schoolyards and enjoy the many benefits that frequent opportunities to learn and play in nature provide.

Recent Action

On May 10, 2023, S.1538 was reintroduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions where it is awaiting further action.


Senator Martin Heinrich, and cosponsors.



Roxanne Blackwell, 
Esq., Hon. ASLA,
Director of Federal
Government Affairs

Elizabeth Hebron,
Director of State
Government Affairs