Coal’s demise in Appalachia leaves education in the lurch

Declining coal production in many Appalachian communities is contributing to state and local governments generating less revenue to support education and other social services. This is especially true in areas where the local economy lacks diversification.

With poorer education standards and a steady trend of people moving out of rural communities, areas of Appalachia are failing to attract companies from non-coal industries, including the clean energy sector, according to a new report. The result will be an inability to invest the necessary state and local dollars in traditional K-12 education, creating dire consequences for students in parts of coal country.

Education is one of the most important ingredients to regional development and individual prosperity. “Unfortunately, education attainment in the Appalachian regions lags the national average,” researchers found in the new analysis, commissioned by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

With a less-educated and skilled workforce, the region has become a “less attractive place” for companies to move their operations to after coal mines shut down, the report said.

The five-part study, “An Economic Analysis of the Appalachian Coal Industry Ecosystem,” highlighted that coal production in Appalachia fell nearly 45 percent between 2005 and 2015, more than double the rate of the national decline during the same period. Prior to the start of the decline, U.S. coal production had been steadily increasing over the previous century.

Coal jobs, on the other hand, have been declining in Appalachia for decades. Appalachia lost a total of 33,500 coal mining jobs between 2011 and 2016. More than 67 percent of these jobs  –  about 22,500 jobs  –  were in coalfield counties in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

Author: Mark Hand


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