In Logging Bill, Schools Face Short-Term Costs, Long-Term Lifeline
By guest blogger Diette Courrégé Casey. Cross-posted from Rural Education.
A new logging bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Friday means rural schools in timber-rich areas likely would see cuts to their education funding, but education advocates still supported the measure because it offered a long-term funding solution for those schools.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act has given rural communities in national forest areas federal money to compensate for revenue lost because of restrictions on harvesting timber. School districts have relied on that money for decades, but the legislation expired last year. It was reauthorized last summer for one year, and this site gives a state-by-state breakdown of the funding (Oregon leads the pack with $63 million, followed by California at $35.8 million)
The Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act passed Friday by the House would end that direct aid program after one year and leave schools dependent on logging money, according to the Huffington Post. The story cited figures from a Montana-based economic research firm that showed the bill would cut funding for rural schools by as much as $65 million and for counties by as much as $70 million per year.
Although schools likely would see a funding cut, groups such as the National Education Association and the National Association of Counties were supportive of the legislation.
"This bill provides a path forward to providing a lifeline for rural schools in great need: dependable sources of funding," according to a letter from the NEA to members of the House. "Among its five titles, it provides an approach for long-term funding for communities that currently receive Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act dollars, as well as crucial transition funding."
In its endorsement of the legislation, the NEA said this would be a sustainable approach to meeting students' needs and ensuring the economic vitality of forested communities in rural areas.
"Moreover, we commend the authors of this bill for providing the necessary transition funding to maintain stability in such communities," according to the NEA. "This funding is absolutely critical as school districts strive to meet our students' needs.
Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities, a grassroots coalition that has been advocating for a permanent solution for rural communities and federal forest lands, called the House's passage of the legislation "the most significant forest management legislation to advance in years, and it shows that Congress is serious about addressing the environmental and economic problems that are plaguing the forests and the Americans who depend on this renewable resource for their livelihoods."
The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill, and every major U.S. environmental group views the bill "as an ecological nightmare," according to the Huffington Post story. Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities called it "disappointing that the Obama administration continues to ignore the stark realities facing our forests and communities by threatening to veto the legislation."
UPDATE: Given the political turmoil, supporters of the rural schools legislation added similar language to a bill that has more momentum, dealing with helium policy. That measure, a version of which has already been approved by the Senate, passed the House Thursday.