States Dependent on Natural Resources Face Tricky Path on K-12 Revenue

By Daarel Burnette II — December 28, 2017 2 min read
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It’s been almost a decade since oil and coal prices began to plummet. That caused a wave of budget cuts in states that tethered their school funding to booming energy-industry revenue. (I profiled how the fall in oil prices has affected K-12 education in those states here.)

Oil prices have stabilized in the last year, but have not yet rebounded to the prices they were in 2008.

As tax revenue projections come in for the 2018-19 fiscal year, many of the governors in states dependent on revenue stemming from natural resources have said in recent days that they will have to continue cutting, though that’s not true for all states.

  • Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, will recommend a $66 million cut in that state’s school spending for the 2019-20 biennium. The state’s legislators and school administrators for the last two years have been debating ways to upend its complicated school funding formula
  • Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, will attempt to hold steady his K-12 education budget at $1.26 billion, despite the looming task of cutting a quarter of the state’s overall budget. State education Commissioner Michael Johnson said to Education Week that, because of budget cuts, he will have to outsource collecting and analyzing data under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
  • Unlike in other commodity-dependent states, New Mexico’s legislature is expecting to see a 16 percent increase in revenue next year. Lawmakers are discussing ways to increase government employees’ pay (boosts to teacher pay haven’t yet been mentioned) and investing in early childhood and public education programs, according to local media reports. The state last year pulled millions of dollars from its savings fund in order to, in part, stave off cuts to its public schools.
  • West Virginia, like New Mexico, is expecting a stable budget next year now that natural gas, coal and oil revenue have rebounded somewhat. The state expects to spend $1.6 billion next fiscal year, the same amount it spent last year. I’ve profiled how the state has shuttered some schools in recent years after a steep student population loss. Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who recently switched parties, told Beckley, W. Va. Register-Herald that education will be a central focus of his next year. ""There is going to be a really great big push from my side and a positive push from the other side, too, to revisit education in a really positive way,” Justice said. “We’ve got jobs coming and road building, the coal business is coming back a little bit, tourism is a real opportunity—we have all kinds of opportunities. We’ve got to keep all that going and let it multiply itself. Education is a component that is really important to me.”

The more interesting story in coal and oil-dependent states is how those states’ politicians and school leaders are attempting to reorganize their public school systems to better prepare students for careers outside traditional industries which once provided six-figure salaries. Many states are creating career tech training for students to work in technology fields or on new wind farms being built in the state. And earlier this year, my colleague Denisa Superville profiled a program in coal mine town Pike County, Kentucky that prepares students to enter into the drone industry.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.