Tax reform bill could limit charitable giving

Municipal bonds

We don’t often think about how federal tax law might affect local parks and recreation. As more and more park districts and parks and recreation agencies turn to the nonprofit sector to bridge budget gaps, the new tax policy reform legislation making its way through the U.S. Congress raises questions and concerns. Here’s why. This is the 100th anniversary of the charitable deduction. The charitable deduction, which provides a tax deduction for contributions to qualified charitable nonprofit organizations, has been in place since it was created by the U.S. Congress in the Revenue Act of 1917. It is available to taxpayers who itemize when filing their federal tax returns, which includes 1/3 of all Americans. There have been no significant changes to our complex tax law since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, but there are two bills – one in the U.S. House and one in the U.S. Senate – that propose major changes to the U.S. tax code.

The U.S. House has already passed its version of the tax reform bill, and this week the U.S. Senate is debating its own version of the legislation. Together, the bill is referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1). The goal of Republican leadership is to reconcile the House and Senate bills, and pass comprehensive tax policy reform by the end of the year. While reducing the tax burden of individuals and corporations is laudable, the proposed provisions in the legislation come with consequences. There are many facets to these tax reform proposals, which affect corporations, higher education, healthcare, home mortgages, state and local taxes…and charitable giving.

How might charitable giving be impacted in the proposed tax reform law, and how might it impact nonprofit charitable organizations including 501(c)(3) nonprofit park foundations…and by extension the parks and recreation agencies and special park districts they support? One of the proposals the House has advanced is to double the standard deduction to as much as $24,400 for a married couple, which could reduce the amount of deductible charitable contributions nationally from the current $241 billion down to $146 billion. The practical effect of raising the standard deduction would be to reduce the number of taxpayers who can itemize qualified deductions on their federal tax returns. Tax filers do this when the sum of all their deductions is greater than the standard deduction determined by the Internal Revenue Service.

The Independent Sector, the Council on Foundations, and the National Council of Nonprofits have come together to oppose H.R. 1, and are advocating for the inclusion of a universal deduction for charitable donations to extend charitable giving incentives to all taxpayers.

The question is whether a significant increase in the standard deduction would discourage people from donating to qualified nonprofit public charities such as park foundations and friends groups. America is an altruistic nation, and charitable giving has risen by 4% in each of the past two years. While we know that altruism is a motivating factor for giving to public charitable organizations, we know that many itemize donations on their federal tax returns. Should the tax policy reform legislation incentivize charitable giving, and what mechanism should be used to accomplish it? Public charities have been instrumental in supporting healthcare, social services and other worthy causes such as the park foundations that help their local parks and recreation agencies improve the quality of life in their communities.

The charitable tax deduction has been in place for 100 years. Will donors continue to give, and at the same levels, if they are unable to itemize on their tax returns? As the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) moves through the legislative process, we must communicate to our congressional representatives the significant role that nonprofit organizations play in the fabric of our society, and the impact that the new tax reform bill may have on the nonprofit sector.

IPA 501c3


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Every Student Succeeds Act includes environmental education


Sarah Bodor, Public Policy Director at the North American Environmental Education Association, led an education session at the NRPA Conference titled “New Funding for Parks and Recreation Education  Programs Through the Every Student Succeeds Act.”  The session focused on opportunities for park districts and parks and recreation agencies to access grant funding for environmental education and literacy. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the new federal education bill, which authorizes programs, policies and funding caps until 2021. ESSA includes environmental education as a fundable subject for the first time ever in a federal education bill. Although years of advocacy for the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI) has not resulted in the bill being passed by Congress, language in NCLI was put into ESSA. This recognizes the value of “outdoor classrooms” and “experiential learning” in a child’s education. Environmental education is best taught and learned in a combination of traditional in the classroom and outdoor settings.

Parks and recreation agencies when partnering with public schools are eligible for environmental education grants under Title IV, Part A and Part B, under ESSA.

  • Title IV, Part A 21st Century Schools is a grant program that supports “well rounded” education, which complements or extends subjects in the school’s core curriculum. U.S. Dept. of Education block grants to state departments of education, who subgrant to every school district in the state. The grant goes to the school district, but schools can partner with parks and recreation agencies. 21st Century Schools is a new Title under ESSA, including a wide variety of programs including STEM, field-based environmental education activities and service learning projects.
  • Title IV, Part B, 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21stCCLC) is a grant program funding afterschool and out-of-school programs, including environmental education and literacy programs. The U.S. Dept. of Education block grants to the state departments of education, who administer a competitive grant program which both schools and local governmental entities, community-based and nonprofit organizations are eligible grantees. Schools must always be included in the grant proposal e.g. if a parks and recreation agency were to receive 21stCCLC grant funding it would still have to partner with a local school to implement the program. The 21stCCLC grant program provides opportunities for children who come from economically disadvantaged families and attend low-performing schools (Title I schools) to receive academic support.

What’s next and what can I do? While 21st Century Schools and 21st Century Community Learning Centers are each authorized at around $1billion, Congress has to annually appropriate funds for these programs. Those appropriations are under consideration, but there will be a call to reduce or maybe zero out funding for these programs. The state departments of education are now in control of administering these grant programs, subject to the discretion of the appropriations process in Congress. 21stCCLC and 21st Century Schools grants under ESSA will probably be made available during the 2018-2019 school year. The school districts will decide what programs will be funded. NAAEE’s Sarah Bodor encouraged session attendees and our parks and recreation colleagues to reach out to our respective state department’s of education to advocate for environmental education in both Title IV, Part A 21st Century Schools and Title IV, Part B 21stCCLC. If you have questions or need more information go to the NAAEE website and hit the EE Pro Advocacy tab or e-mail me at and I will be happy to help.


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Few are aware of America’s most visionary conservation & recreation law

Capitol View Park in Frankfort, KY

Capitol View Park in Frankfort, KY

Have you ever seen this sign in your local park and wonder what it represents? Does your park even display this sign and logo?

More than 40,000 projects…acquisition and development of parkland and outdoor recreation facilities…are serving communities across America since the Land & Water Conservation Fund was enacted by Congress in 1965. The LWCF is administered by the National Park Service, and any project that has been funded by a LWCF State & Local Assistance grant is required to prominently display the sign and logo. The LWCF sign represents a classic federal, state and local partnership…a cooperative program for close-to-home outdoor recreation opportunities.

The LWCF is the only federal grant program that directly supports local parks and outdoor recreation in the U.S. The LWCF sign means that the local government and the  community it serves values local parks, and have made a commitment to match the federal grant dollar for dollar. LWCF receives its revenue from oil and gas lease royalties off the Outer Continental Shelf…not from general tax revenue. Eligibility for an LWCF grant is based on a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), which is a 5-year plan outlining outdoor recreation priorities.

While LWCF State & Local Assistance Grant program funding has been lagging the past decade, we have not done a good job of making the case for LWCF’s positive impact in our communities. How do our U.S. Representatives know about a LWCF assisted park or outdoor recreation facility in their state or congressional district? How does the community know that their local park was LWCF assisted…and part of this classic federal, state and local partnership?

One important way to express the value of an LWCF project is to display the LWCF sign and logo…and ensure that both legislators and community members understand and appreciate how LWCF is positively impacting people of all ages and abilities. It’s an essential first step!

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A park built by vision and philanthropy

The Parklands thanks for visiting

The vision has become a reality. The Parklands of Floyds Fork, a 4,000 acre, 22-mile linear park on the eastern edge of Louisville, Kentucky, is a privately funded, publicly operated park where outdoor recreation, conservation and education come together. It was the vision of Dan Jones, son of Humana Health Insurance founder David Jones, that made this grand urban park a reality. It was through strategic partnerships and an ambitious philanthropic effort that built The Parklands.

The Parklands is a systemic, world class addition to Louisville’s Frederick Law Olmsted designed parks system that includes four major parks linked by a meandering parkway, an urban bicycling and hiking trail system which is part of the 100 mile Louisville Loop, and a scenic water trail, all tracing Floyds Fork, a classic Kentucky stream. Park development began in 2012, and the fourth and final park in the system was completed in 2016. This public/private project is unique in the region and unlike anything currently in development across the country.

The Parklands includes:

  • 100 miles of new trails for biking and hiking
  • 19 miles of canoe trail along Floyds Fork Creek
  • Conservation lands, agriculture heritage, and environmental education programs
  • Children’s playgrounds, spraygrounds and a dog park
  • Accessible fishing areas, canoe launches, and recreational fields including soccer

21st Century Parks, a nonprofit organization directed by Dan Jones, is responsible for fundraising, land acquisition and the long term operation and maintenance of The Parklands. Parks Director Scott Martin, an ambitious and innovative leader, has led the park system to its successful completion. Through the establishment of an annual fund and endowment 21st Century Parks will continue to be responsible for park operations and maintenance. The annual fund and park maintenance endowment are supported through community contributions.

The construction costs for The Parklands total $120 million. In February 2013, 21st Century Parks completed a $120 million Capital Campaign goal for park development and land acquisition, securing more than $70 million through the generosity of local individuals, corporations, and foundations. A federal transportation appropriation provided $38 million for park development. Louisville Metro Government appropriated $1.5 million for the project’s first playground, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky contributed $10 million for infrastructure.

The Parklands carries on the Olmsted legacy, and is a gift to residents of Louisville and the Kentuckiana region. The Parklands welcomes more than a million visitors a year…thanks to a community leader’s vision and a passionate philanthropic spirit.

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Congress must value the impact of parks and recreation

Impact of parks and recreation graphic

Parks and recreation intersects with and positively impacts these segments of society…Health, Environment, Education, Transportation and the Economy…and here are some basics that Congress needs to understand:

  • Education – Parks are outdoor classrooms and laboratories for experiential learning; complementing in-school science education curriculums, students gain a valuable perspective as they engage with nature .
  • Health – parks, trails and recreation/fitness centers are part of the preventive healthcare system, and when combined are the most expansive, affordable and accessible health, wellness and fitness facility in the nation.
  • Environment – parks and public spaces are carbon sinks and help balance the carbon cycle; improve air quality and reduce the urban heat island effect in urban areas; parks are made for green infrastructure through natural stormwater management.
  • Transportation – Similar to the federal interstate highway boom in the 1950s, multi-use trails, greenways and rail-trails are proliferating…connecting people and communities across the nation; besides the health and environmental benefits from biking and walking, trails are transportation too.
  • Economy -Outdoor recreation generates $646 billion in spending in the U.S. each year; proximity to parks has proved to boost residential property values and tax revenues; cities are making parks a central piece of urban revitalization and economic development strategies; the new generation of workers highly value locations with abundant parks, trails and close-to-home recreation opportunities.


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Hunger doesn’t end when school’s out

Summer MealsSummer Food Service Program1

Summer is just around the corner, and kids will be flocking to local parks across the country to participate in camp and other summer recreation programs. Many of the 162 million kids living in food insecure households are eligible for free and reduced price meals in their schools…an estimated 35 million children eat those healthy meals each school day through U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch and Breakfast Program. The highest instances of food insecurity for kids is in the summer. While kids are getting nutritious meals during the school year, families are losing that opportunity during the summer months. Unfortunately, only 1 of the 6 children who are eligible for those meals in school participate in the Child Nutrition Act’s Summer Food Service Program. There are a number of reasons for this drop in summer participation. One of the major reasons is that families are not aware that free meals are available in the summer…and even if there is an awareness, access to sites that offer free meals can be a challenge.

The Summer Meals Program Act of 2015 would expand eligibility, streamline the application process for meal site sponsors, and include a mobile food delivery service provision. Serving 560 million free, reduced price meals a year, parks and recreation agencies are the largest public provider of children’s meals during the summer months. Parks and recreation agencies have the capacity to effectively reach children in need of nutritious meals.

The argument that the federal government should not be in the business of providing free meals to kids is not valid. Without access to nutritious food sources, kids fall  further behind in school performance and the adverse impact on kids’ health and wellness. The U.S. has the most bountiful agriculture output in the world, and investment in children’s health is in the national interest. Congress must reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act and pass the Summer Meals Act too sufficiently fund important programs that help our children grow. The Summer Feeding Program must flourish in our local parks!


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Environmental law class is more relevant than ever

Environmental Law

One of the best classes I took at Indiana University was environmental law. I am not an attorney, but I have often referred to this textbook to help explain the case law that addresses environmental issues for which I am advocating. I recently pulled my old environmental law textbook off the shelf, and turned to the classic U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens to the 1971 Preserve Overton Park v. Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Overton Park is a beautiful 350-acre park near downtown Memphis…an urban oasis for hundreds of thousands of residents in the growing metro area. The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a plan to reconfigure U.S. 40 with a design that would bisect Overton Park. This seemed to be the most direct and cost effective way to route the major highway. It would save millions of dollars in public expenditures and eliminate controversial eminent domain over private property.

This seemed to be a “slam dunk” for the U.S. Department of Transportation, but a band of citizens who were passionate about preserving the integrity of Overton Park that stepped up and challenged the proposal. Ultimately the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on the basis of Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, the court ruled that the protection of parkland was to be given paramount importance. The legalities of this case have set a precedent, and pitting two public entities against each other…public transportation and public parks…is a no-win for Americans.

For me the real story is the grassroots advocacy of a group of citizens in Memphis who were not going to stand by and see their prized public park split in two by an interstate highway. The citizens of Overton Park fought this issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court…and won. Today, Overton Park is protected by a nonprofit 501(c)(3) friends of the park group. It is because of these citizen advocates that Overton Park is thriving today in Memphis. Their staunch advocacy has spawned nonprofit park foundations and friends groups across the country, who are supporting and advocating for their local parks.



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Parks champion the Clean Water Act

Lake Lemon Indiana

Forty-five years ago the U.S. House and U.S. Senate overrode a President Richard Nixon veto to pass one of the nations historic environmental laws…the 1972 Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to establish rules and regulations designed to protect our nation’s water resources. A few of the provisions of the 1972 Clean Water Act include:

  • established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges into the waters of the U.S.
  • set water quality standards for contaminants in surface waters
  • made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters (effluent from discharge pipes)
  • plans to address the critical issues posed by nonpoint source pollution (farm fields, parking lots etc.)
Park districts and parks and recreation agencies are actively involved in protecting the waterways…lakes, reservoirs, streams and wetlands…under their jurisdiction in an effort to reach EPA’s goal of fishable, swimmable and drinkable water. Best management practices such as developing green infrastructure like rain gardens to control stormwater runoff on park land, constructed wetlands and bioswales for pollution control. Mowing practices have been changed to allow vegetative buffers to grow near streams and water conveying drainage ditches to protect water quality.

Here three park districts that are providing exemplary water quality management:

  • Geauga Park District in northeast Ohio operates 925-acre Headwaters Park as a natural resource designed to protect water quality for aquatic life and its downstream neighbors. Headwaters Park is located in the upper reaches of the polluted Cuyahoga River, which caught fire in 1969 and stimulated the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
  • Naperville Park District near Chicago is a leader in water conservation. With the assistance of a grant from the EPA through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, the Naperville Park District made improvements at four parks that are helping to protect water quality in the DuPage River and other local streams. Each of these best management practices reduce the amount of water pollution carried by stormwater to the DuPage River.
  • Three Rivers Park District, in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, owns all or part of the shoreline of 34 lakes, two rivers, six streams and hundreds of wetlands. Their Water Resources Management section cooperates with surrounding communities and watershed management organizations to implement best management practices e.g. water quality monitoring, exotic species control, pollution reduction, and well management. Three Rivers Park District makes water quality a management priority, which has made the park district one of the most revered outdoor recreation resources in the country.

The aforementioned park districts and many more have benefited from EPA grants. Section 319 grants have assisted in shoreline restoration and removing waterway-choking low head dams; Safe Drinking Water Revolving Fund has facilitated park districts and public water utility partnerships for projects such as stream corridor protection and restoration projects; and the National Environmental Education Act has provided grants to promote environmental education, which many park districts have used to develop watershed and water quality education.

The administration’s proposed 2018 budget cuts the EPA by 31%, which would dramatically reduce or eliminate programs that have a prove record of improving the nation’s water quality. Water is the lifeblood of our health and of our economy. It makes economic sense to fund programs that address water quality issues upstream…in the headwaters before they impact the health and the economy of those downstream. Park districts are at the forefront of the water quality movement…and they need a strong EPA to continue the fight for clean water. Advocates for clean water and a strong EPA are needed more than ever.

Water quality Naperville3

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Dayton hosts 2017 International Trails Symposium

International Trails Symposium Dayton

Every two years American Trails sponsors the International Trails Symposium. This year the three day event is in Dayton…the Miami Valley region in Southwest Ohio. Indeed, partnering organizations and volunteers have created a system in which most Dayton-area residents live within 10 to 15 minutes of a trail. The Miami Valley region is home to the nation’s largest paved trail network, which draws approximately 772,000 visitors every year. In late 2016, the region’s 300-plus mile paved recreation trail network was linked with one in the Columbus area, connecting an additional 119 miles.

Paved bicycle/pedestrian trails are not the only type of trail featured in the Miami Valley region. In 2016 the Great Miami River Watershed Trail was designated a National Water Trail System by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The water trail — which includes the Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers — is the only national water trail in Ohio. Benefits of this designation include national promotion and visibility, increased tourism and money to local economies, and improved public health and quality of life.

Partnerships have been a major factor in building a strong, unified identity as a destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts and trail lovers. Eighteen agencies and organizations are partnering to make the International 2017 Trails Symposium a success. Candace Mitchell, director of operations for American Trails said “Partnerships are a big part of trails, and the Dayton community has great experience with this.”



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Great Lakes Park Training Institute turns 70

Great Lakes Park Training Institute 2017In its 70th year of serving the parks, recreation and conservation profession, the 2017 Great Lakes Park Training Institute is February 27 – March 2 at winter wonderland Pokagon State Park in northeast Indiana. The GLPTI, operated by Indiana University’s Eppley Institute for Parks & Public Lands, attracts park and facilities managers, operations and maintenance managers, trail managers, planners, outdoor recreation managers and environmental educators for 4 days of interactive education sessions and workshops and networking opportunities. Review the program schedule and registration information at

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