With another election season approaching, New Mexicans should remember the progress made in our education system thanks to oil and gas production. And as new methane regulations come into play for our regulators, it’s important we get them right, because the stakes could not be higher.
The oil and gas industry provides more than one-third of funding for New Mexico schools. By category, this equated to over $1 billion for public schools and over $300 million for public colleges and universities in fiscal 2019 alone. Bernalillo County, in particular, benefits immensely from this revenue. K-12 schools received $304 million supported by the industry while higher education – primarily the University of New Mexico – took in $131 million even though there is not any production in our county.
Having served as director for the New Mexico Activities Association for 23 years and as a superintendent of a school district in the southern part of the state, I have seen firsthand how important this funding is to students.
This is why the methane regulations on the oil and gas industry proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department are concerning to me. It’s important to protect our environment with sensible regulations, but if not done right, these regulations could impede our primary source of funding for public schools.
When money gets tight at schools, unfortunately, athletics and other extracurricular activities – essential for a well-balanced student – are often the first items on the chopping block. Interscholastic activities are the only discipline that directly addresses and formally teaches the qualities necessary to achieve in a competitive society, which was principal to the purpose of public education’s origin.
On average, students who participate in high school sports or non-athletic activities have a higher GPA than non-participants. Activities provide younger students a unique and fun environment to learn perseverance, teamwork, integrity, friendly competition, work ethic, cultural growth, self-worth, goal setting, personal responsibility and many other healthy character traits. These activities also provide students with positive mentors, social relationships and a healthy competitive environment that fosters leadership skills and positive time management.
This is why new methane regulations need to be crafted carefully, backed by both data and science. We need a proper balance: protecting both our environment and the industry that injects critical revenue into our state’s education system. Get it wrong – you risk procedurally choking off critical funding for resources we need to provide our children these unique experiences.
Remember, there are political opportunists who want to “keep it in the ground” – let’s not delay New Mexico’s progress. But even worse, if these fringe voices get their way, it will compromise the future for the next generation of New Mexicans whose education should come first.
As I have told many of my students over the years, we need to raise our expectations and work not to survive but to achieve. New Mexico has that same opportunity, and we can’t afford to squander it.