As a former educator, I am well aware of how convoluted and difficult it is to parse public education funding. I am also aware of the frequent promise made by oil and gas operators that increased development will improve our schools and increase funding. Recent studies have called into question the validity of the promises, and I believe we need to see a more detailed local study conducted on the impact of oil and gas development on our public schools and their funding.
Public education funding in Colorado has a particularly fraught relationship with oil and gas production. Colorado public education funding depends on local revenue sources to a greater extent than many other states, and Delta County already sits toward the bottom in per-pupil funding. Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights further complicates the funding issue by capping the amount of revenue a district can collect. That cap means that as local severance tax revenue increases with production, other sources of revenue are automatically ratcheted down. As bust inevitably follows boom, severance tax revenues diminish, and school districts are left in a hole, unable to increase revenues without voter approval. A new study by Resources for the Future highlights many of the risks school districts face when in the path of an impending oil and gas boom: rapid increases in student population, greater student turnover rates, decreased per-pupil funding, and greater difficulty in retaining faculty and staff. These risks are especially relevant for Delta County.
As I mentioned above, Delta County is already at the bottom of the pack in per-pupil funding. Decisions being made on oil and gas development must have more specific details outlining the positive and negative impacts on a broad range of issues, and in this case, our local education system. As a mother of three young children who are embarking on their educational journey here in Delta County, I would hope to see that economic decisions being made at the local level, have been thoroughly researched, identifying specific effects, that reflect on short-term and long-term benefits and consequences. Education is the foundation of the future, and Delta County must fully consider the impact any oil and gas development could have on our school district. We owe it to the students, teachers and community.