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This is the first of two reports exploring the relationship between coal activity and funding for elementary and secondary education in the Appalachian Region. In this first report, patterns in funding for elementary and secondary education are explored using annual data from 1995 to 2016. Counties that had some level of coal employment over this time period (coal counties) are compared to counties that had no coal employment over the same time (non-coal counties). Through a descriptive analysis, we find that educational attainment rates in the Appalachian Region lag behind national rates, often by a significant margin. There is considerable heterogeneity in educational attainment across and within Appalachia, with coal communities within states sometimes outperforming non-coal communities and vice versa. The Appalachian region is also characterized by higher incidences of poverty, higher unemployment rates, and lower per capita incomes. These weaker economic conditions can impact communities’ ability to generate taxes from their own tax base such as local tax revenues which fund education. Education is essential for economic development and prosperity, particularly in incidences where declines in coal activity has been devasting for communities that already have lower levels of educational attainment. Encouragingly, we find that coal counties generally have similar levels of spending and local revenues per student as the nation as a whole. However, there is significant variation across counties and states. This descriptive analysis is followed by a second report, which aims to isolate the impacts of coal activity, including employment and production, on local revenues for elementary and secondary education.


This report was prepared for the Appalachian Regional Commission under contract PW-19667-19.