We all benefit when New Mexico’s classrooms have the resources they need to educate our children.

But our educational outcomes are not what they should be, and part of the reason is that we’ve underfunded our schools for years.

Some of the money that supports New Mexico’s education system comes from royalties and rental payments paid by the oil and natural gas industries.

Because we understand how fortunate we are to have those natural resources, we tend to forget our responsibility to be the best stewards of them we can. We must ensure we’re not shortchanging our students — but, because of the federal government’s outdated policies, we are.

Oil and gas producers are required to pay for the minerals they extract from public lands because New Mexico’s natural resources belong to all of us.

When oil producers want to extract crude from federal lands in New Mexico, they pay royalty and rental rates set by the federal Bureau of Land Management. However, BLM’s royalty rates for oil and gas drilling on federal lands are seriously outdated and 40 percent lower than the rates set by New Mexico for production on many state lands.

The BLM’s royalty rate has not been updated in nearly a century, so it has not kept up with inflation. Meanwhile, the price of gas has steadily risen, and oil companies have been making enormous profits.

If the BLM’s royalty rate had matched New Mexico’s rate, the state would have earned at least another $2.5 billion over the past 10 years, according to a recent report by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

New Mexico lost another $9-plus million thanks to rental rates that haven’t been updated since the 1980s. Most of that money would have gone to paying our teachers and buying tools for our classrooms.

Outdated federal rates are a bigger problem for New Mexico than for other western states because New Mexico has the largest share of oil and natural gas production on federal lands in the nation.

Royalties, rental rates and other charges are collected because Americans are entitled to receive “fair market value for the use of the public lands and their resources” under federal law.

Fortunately, Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are sponsoring bipartisan legislation — the Fair Return for Public Lands Act of 2020 — that would raise royalties, rental rates and other fees, pulling in significantly more revenue for the federal government and states. We applaud them for their work and urge other lawmakers to support this bill.

When our state was founded, we made the smart strategic decision to use the revenue from our natural resources to educate our children. But the federal government has been much less smart about stewarding those resources.

When our kids get shortchanged because their classrooms are under-resourced, the whole state loses out.

One day, oil and natural gas will no longer be extracted from beneath New Mexico. We need to make the most of this resource while we can.

(James Jimenez is the executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children.)

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