Calls for greater education funding are a staple of Democratic campaigns. The latest is an advertisement by Senator Obama accusing Senator John McCain of "taking money away from public schools" to give to special interests. Yet in truth, when it comes to one issue that's hitting schools hard—rising energy costs—it’s Democrats who don't seem so concerned about schools’ stretched budgets.
This summer, Republicans from the House of Representatives conducted a survey of teachers, administrators, and parents from around the country to get a sense of the impact that rising energy costs are having on the education sector. They received nearly 1,000 responses that together provide a snapshot of how energy is creating problems for America’s education system.
Nearly half of respondents reported a cut in field trips as a result of high fuel costs. One-third said that schools were limiting bus routes to save on fuel costs, and nearly a quarter report that school are raising school lunch prices in an attempt to make up for energy costs' effects on the budget. In total, nine out of ten respondents believe higher energy prices are having an effect on their local schools. And the National School Boards Association has reported that at least 86 school districts have moved to 4-day school weeks to curb energy costs.
The good news is that some energy costs have gone down in recent months. According to the AAA, gasoline prices reached their peak on July 17, when the average price for a regular gallon was $4.11. Today, that gallon costs $3.35—a decline of 18 percent. Yet, this decline doesn’t change the fundamental problem the United States faces when it comes to energy policy. Global demand continues to rise. If supply doesn’t keep pace, then prices will climb. The potential for supply interruptions (and the ensuing price spikes) is greater because so much of the world’s oil supply come from unstable, often hostile, regions.
That’s why increasing domestic energy production is crucial. There may be bipartisan hope that alternative fuels will ultimately play a bigger role in our energy sector. Yet policymakers need to be realistic about their potential in the short term. Just seven percent of America’s energy supply came from renewable energy sources last year. Fossil fuels are, and will remain, our primary source of energy for the foreseeable future.