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Energy and Schools: A Sleeper Campaign Issue?

By Alyson Klein — July 29, 2008 1 min read
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It looks like rising energy costs are going to put a major strain on school districts this fall, according to this USA Today story:

Fuel and energy costs are rising so quickly for the USA's public school districts that nearly one in seven is considering cutting back to four-day weeks this fall. One in four is considering limits on athletics and other extracurricular activities, and nearly one in three is eliminating teaching jobs

Education Week’s Katie Ash also wrote about the issue earlier this month.

This might become an issue on the campaign trail, at least for congressional candidates. As Congress heads home for the August district work period (typically a campaign opportunity for congressional candidates), Republican leaders in Congress are encouraging members of their caucus to let school officials and others in their districts know about a survey designed to help gauge the impact of fuel prices on school districts.

“This initiative will gather input from school officials, teachers, families, and communities to determine the extent of the energy crisis in our schools – input that we will provide to both parties this fall to encourage decisive action by Congress to increase production of American energy to lower fuel costs,” wrote House Minority Leader John Boehner and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee in a memo to House Republicans, which will be sent tomorrow.

The survey may lead to bipartisan policy, but it could also be savvy politics. Republicans are trying to shift blame (fairly or unfairly) for rising energy costs onto Democratic leaders in Congress. Talking about school budget woes could be a good way to show how the gas price issue can effect entire communities, not just commuters. And the survey is a way for the minority party (which has less control over the legislative agenda) to show that it’s trying to do something about it.

Of course, House Democratic leaders could counter that they’ve passed a bill to develop more “green” school buildings. (The Senate hasn’t acted on that legislation yet.) Either way, this is a great “kitchen table” issue that both parties should be talking about as congressional races begin in earnest this fall.


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