Best of the West: New state laws to improve education; underground geothermal storage; a hydrogen fuel cell ferry; world pinball champion

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting March 13, 2023. (Photos courtesy of Thom Bridge/Independent Record, All American Marine, and Hart Van Denburg)

During the 2023 State of the State addresses, Western Governors' commitment to improving education was a common theme. From workforce development and early childhood programs to higher and technical education and K-12 funding, here's a look at a handful of education-related bills passed by western states in recent weeks. 
• The Colorado Department of Education reported 6,000 vacant teaching positions in 2021. To ease staff shortages, Governor Jared Polis recently signed the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact. It requires nine other states to join before implementation but would make it easier for out-of-state educators to apply for licensure in other states. 
• New Mexico’s legislature unanimously passed a law to fund early childhood education programs on Tribal reservations. The classes will increase Indigenous representation in schooling and incorporate Tribes’ cultural teachings to help maintain Indigenous languages.
• To support higher education, South Dakota gave the green light to a bill that will reimburse 100% of tuition at the state's public or technical colleges for local National Guard members. "This legislation will help South Dakota's bravest men and women to stay in our state to get an education, participate in our booming economy, and raise a family," Governor Kristi Noem stated in a press release. Read more here to learn how Western Governors' policy encourages investments in technical careers. 
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation to reduce inflation in state education spending. It adds $85.6 million to the K-12 Base Amount for School Equity aid funding through 2025. The new law aligns with the Governor’s $1 billion Budget for Montana Families and will go into effect in 2024.  
• Compared to 2022, the Utah legislature increased education spending by 18.5% this year. The bill includes a 6% boost in the money school districts can receive. Overall, lawmakers in the Beehive state approved $15 billion for public schools and related programs during the 2023 legislative session. 

Underground Geothermal Storage: The potential of geothermal technology spans beyond electricity generation and heating and cooling needs. Fervo Energy out of Texas broke ground on a Nevada project that will assess the possibility of storing geothermal energy underground, similar to battery storage. Initial results indicate that the company can build flexible geothermal power plants that support grid reliability. To learn more about using geothermal resources for long-duration energy storage, watch a WGA webinar here

Outdoor Economic Diversification: Outdoor recreation accounts for 3.6% of Wyoming's economy. To continue the growth, Governor Mark Gordon signed a recreation and tourism trust fund into law. Initially, it will invest $6 million to create new bike paths, hiking trails, campgrounds, and shooting ranges. Read more to learn about Western Governors' outdoor recreation and tourism policy. 
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ferry: To meet clean energy  goals, the San Francisco Bay ferry will test the first entirely hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferry in the  U.S. The Sea Change vessel can transport 75 passengers and store two days’ worth of hydrogen for standard operations. Hydrogen fuel cells only emit water, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment. 
World Pinball Champ: Last August, 19-year-old Escher Lefkoff from Longmont, Colorado became the International Flipper Pinball Association’s world champion. Pinball is a family affair for Lefkoff, and his father began teaching him how to play at three years old. The 100-year-old activity is gaining popularity with more competitions scheduled each year and leverages online platforms to pique interest in participation. 

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