Study Explores Marcellus Shale Gas Development and Impacts on Pennsylvania Schools and Education

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania commissioned a Marcellus Shale Impacts study, the third looking at impacts on Pennsylvania schools and education.

The rapid development of natural resources resulting in sudden economic expansion and the influx of new people to meet new labor market needs is commonly referred to as “boomtown” development.

While this economic activity may be welcomed by many, especially in areas that have experienced longer term economic stagnation, these sudden community changes can also place new and unexpected strains on local infrastructure and institutions.

One such institution is the local school.  What are the impacts on schools under boomtown-like conditions?  What is the effect on student demographics?  How do enrollments change?  Do new populations of workers bring with them new populations of students, and, if so, what are the challenges and opportunities for local schools?

This report investigates these questions in the context of natural gas development in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, examining how schools and the provision of education within Pennsylvania communities may have been affected by active Marcellus Shale natural gas development.

Using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the federal Department of Education’s Center for Education Statistics (NCES), coupled with qualitative focus group data with school leaders from Pennsylvania’s northern tier and southwest counties, this research focused on several topical areas, including changes in student populations and characteristics, student achievement and school district finances. Findings indicated that:

The spikes in student populations that school districts in the regions may have anticipated in association with sudden industry development have not come to pass. Enrollments across both the northern tier and the southwest have largely continued their steady and longer term decline.

Qualitative data suggest modest influxes of new students, but the state-level data and the focus group data suggest that the overall numbers of new students are low.  No discernible pattern is evident with Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing data either.

  • Dropout Rates: 

Despite gas industry employment opportunities, dropout rates overall have shown negligible change, although anecdotal evidence from focus groups suggests that some students have dropped out, lured at least in part by industry opportunities.

  • Demographics:

Data suggest little evidence linking gas industry development to changes in student demographics and outcomes. The same may be said with regard to changes in ELL student populations or in the percentages of students classified as receiving special education services.
Student Need:

During the second half of the 2000’s, the statewide percentages of students income-qualified for free or reduced price lunch increased markedly, attributable in large part to the national recession and economic downturn.  These rates rose within the northern tier and the southwest regions of Pennsylvania as well, although at lesser rates.

At the same time, in 2010-11 in seven of the 18 counties the lunch program participation rates were still above state averages and the majority of county-level rates ranged between 35 and 45 percent, suggesting continued high levels of economic disadvantage among significant proportions of students.

This is the Executive Summary of the report.  See the full report here.

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