Report

Impacts of Unconventional Oil and Gas Booms on Public Education: A Mixed-Methods Analysis of Six Producing States

Aug 10, 2017 | Nathan Ratledge, Laura Zachary

Summary

We examine the effect of energy resource booms on preK–12 public schools by combining statistical analysis and in-person interviews with education professionals across six major oil- and gas-producing states.

Key Findings

  • Looking at student enrollment, student-teacher ratios, and per pupil finances, our study finds divergent trends that split largely between school districts in the eastern versus western United States.
  • Boom districts in North Dakota experienced a statistically larger increase in student enrollment than non-boom districts in the state, whereas Marcellus boom districts saw a significant decline in student enrollment compared with non-boom districts.
  • Regarding financial effects, North Dakota boom districts experienced a statistically significant decline in per pupil funding, whereas Marcellus boom districts had a statistically positive increase in per pupil revenue.
  • Per pupil capital spending in North Dakota increased with the growth in student numbers, but a decrease in per pupil educational spending raises red flags for long-term effects.
  • Despite some disparate regional impacts, nearly all boom districts reported heightened stress from financial volatility. In contrast to much of the existing literature, interviews across all regions reported minimal concern with increased dropout rates.

Abstract

Unconventional oil and gas development has revolutionized the global energy marketplace, particularly in the United States. Rapid industry expansion has also had significant and widespread impacts at the community level. This study provides an in-depth look at pre-K–12 educational impacts across six oil- and gas-producing states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, and Colorado—to understand the benefits and challenges of the recent resource booms on student enrollment, teachers, public education finances, and student achievement metrics. Understanding the effects of such booms on public education is significant in the short and long term, notably because of their potential influence on educational achievement, career-based decisionmaking, and subsequently, the economic health of a community. A mixed-methods design, coupling difference-in-difference statistical analysis with extensive interviews, reveals a series of key insights across and within states. Broadly, we find divergent trends in student enrollment, student-teacher ratios, and per pupil revenue and expenses between school districts in the eastern versus western United States. In contrast to much of the existing literature, interviews across all regions reported minimal concern with increased dropout rates. Stress from financial uncertainty was also acute and common across all boom districts. Taken together, this analysis underscores the importance of the mixed-methods approach and cautions against overgeneralization of effects across disparate boom regions.