It is no secret that the oil and gas industry constitutes an enormous part of Colorado’s thriving economy. It supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, attracts successful businesses to our state, and literally powers industry across all sectors. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the oil and gas industry—and the one that receives the least attention—is how much it gives back directly to the community in the form of educational opportunity for the kids who need it most.
ACE Scholarships was founded in 2000 with the goal of ensuring that every student has equal access to a quality education, regardless of income. Since our inception, we have provided nearly 20,000 K-12 private school scholarships worth a combined $42 million to low-income students across Colorado. Without access to scholarships, these students would face very different prospects. And without the generosity of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, many of those scholarships would not have been available.
Oil and gas companies and the Coloradans who work for them have been among the strongest supporters of the ACE Scholarships program for the past two decades. During that time, donors from the industry have contributed an estimated $26 million toward scholarships—more than half the total amount raised.
To put those figures into human terms, consider this: Without contributions from the oil and gas industry, about 10,000 scholarships would not have been available for disadvantaged Colorado students. Thousands of children would have been denied access to the educational opportunities they needed due solely to a lack of resources.
The costs of this lack of opportunity, both personal and societal, would have been staggering. ACE estimates that a single high school dropout costs approximately $1.1 million when one factors in costs to society and lost wages.
Fortunately, this scenario never became a reality for ACE scholars. Instead, the oil and gas industry, its leaders, and its employees chose to leverage their own success to help disadvantaged children they likely will never meet. They made an investment into a population of students that has for too long been under-served and written off. And in so doing, they sent a message: You are worth it.
Stop and think about that for a moment. Thousands of stories will have a different ending because of the voluntary kindness of strangers. As those students go on to graduate from high school, attend college, and pursue their own success in the Colorado economy, all of us will reap the benefits. And one day, perhaps these young leaders will return the kindness shown to them by telling the next generation of students that they’re worth it, too.
The contributions of oil and gas to the next generation of Coloradans does not stop with private school scholarships for disadvantaged students. The industry also provides hundreds of millions of dollars per year to Colorado public schools through the State Land Board, which controls 2.8 million surface acres and 4 million sub-surface acres across Colorado. These holdings are leased to private entities, and those leases generate revenue for various state trusts.
Of the gross revenue generated for trusts in 2017-18, nearly 99 percent ($129.8 million) went to the state School Trust. That trust benefits Colorado public school students in the form of contributions to annual public school funding and capital construction grants for schools and districts under the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program. Trust lands have generated roughly $1.5 billion for Colorado public schools in the last decade.
Regardless of political affiliation, we all want to see businesses give back to their communities and invest in the next generation of Colorado employees and leaders. The Colorado oil and gas industry has taken that responsibility to heart. ACE Scholarships is proud to stand alongside these leaders as they work to ensure that every Colorado student—public or private—has a fighting chance to write his or her own success story. Let’s ensure our oil and gas sector remains vibrant for our economy and our kids.
Norton Rainey is president and CEO of ACE Scholarships, a nonprofit scholarship-granting organization that provides privately funded K-12 scholarships to more than 2,000 disadvantaged Colorado students.