Switching from math to economics
Teachers were able to play off news a few weeks ago showing a major problem with teacher absenteeism as “teacher bashing” before leading up to the 2020 election. I’m unsure how they explain away the most recent national reading and math scores.
According to test scores from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, West Virginia was one of three states that saw test scores for fourth grade math go down since 2017, while most states stayed steady. In fourth grade reading, West Virginia was one of 17 states that saw scores go down.
The average fourth grade math score for West Virginia dropped by five points between 2017 and 2019 — the largest drop of any state — to 231. Mississippi, which we are often compared to, increased its score over two years by six points to 241. The national average increased by one point to 240.
I’m focusing on this and not eighth grade math because honestly if you don’t have the fundamentals down by fourth grade, it only gets harder from there.
At the start of this school year, the state Department of Education adopted a mantra of “no excuses.” Yet, in at least two news outlets that’s all they did was offer excuses. It was the opioid crisis, or it was the change from the A-F grading scale for rating schools to the new Balanced Scorecard, or whatever. I have zero idea how the school ratings would affect a fourth grader in a classroom.
As for opioids, yes, the state has been hit hard no doubt. It has resulted in broken homes, children living with grandparents (oddly enough these children are considered homeless by certain metrics. I guess I was homeless too when I’d stay with my grandma when dad did his shift work), and the massive growth in foster placements. Yet, our state test scores were bad 20 years ago too. What drug can we blame for low test scores in the 1990s?
I’m certainly not going to bash our teachers, and I’m confused who was bashing teachers in the last several elections as recent letter-to-the-editor writers have claimed, as I don’t recall any teacher-bashing by politicians. As the recent MetroNews West Virginia Poll showed, 55 percent of those polled approve of the job performance of teachers’ unions. That poll also shows that 69 percent of those polled would support teachers on another strike.
As the public hearings leading up to the special session on education reform showed, most parents and caregivers of students in public schools are satisfied with their schools. I would hope since then that parents have looked at the Balanced Scorecard and see that most of the schools they think are good have real problems.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we have to change the culture in this state that has diminished the importance of education. We need to care a little less about the score of the Homecoming game and the Prom photos and care more about whether our kids are learning.
Much attention has been focused on the possible $100 million mid-year budget cuts due, in part, to a drop off in coal and natural gas severance tax revenue. One think tank has a novel solution: raise the tax by 10 percent.
The West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy seems to think that it makes sense to raise the natural gas severance tax rate from 5 percent to 10 percent. They estimate that doing this would generate $200 million in new tax revenue.
Of the three states in the Marcellus and Utica Shale, West Virginia is the only state with a severance tax. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania has an impact fee for each well. Ohio’s severance tax on natural gas is just 2.5 cents per MCF of gas, or 0.37 percent.
Other energy-rich states charge more, but we’re talking about places like Texas that is already the largest producer of natural gas in the country according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Pennsylvania ranked second for natural gas production, with Ohio ranking fifth.
Natural gas companies are already drilling around us, and while these companies are buying the rights in the state, it doesn’t mean they’re putting a well anytime soon. In fact, the national rig count has dropped 31 percent between Oct. 25 and this same time last year. With an oversupply of cheap natural gas on the market, companies are putting the brakes on drilling. Legal fights over natural gas pipeline construction are not helping either.
If you were to raise the severance tax rate on natural gas, you would bring in a lot of tax revenue — in the short term. I called it the blood-from-turnip economic policy. Raising that tax rate does two things: It brings in a lot of one-time monies in a short period of time, and it forces natural gas companies to pull up their rigs and go elsewhere.
In the long-term, it would mean another extractive industry in the state slowly being brought to an end, which I imagine is the real goal. However, as long as natural gas remains a less expensive fuel for power plants than coal and renewables, it’s going to stay the go-to fuel. Question is, do we want companies to drill here or elsewhere?
No doubt we need a tax code that relies less on severance tax fluctuations. And we absolutely need a diversified economy. That doesn’t mean natural gas isn’t an important resource and it certainly doesn’t mean we need to scare off these companies.
(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)