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Legislation Seeks Stable Funding For Rural Districts

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Districts that rely on federal funding from the Secure Rural Schools program are always keeping a wary eye on Congress.

That's because the program, which provides millions in federal aid to help districts that are home to national forests make up for diminished timber tax revenue, is constantly having to fight for funding extensions. The program has bipartisan support, but its authorization expires every few years. In some years, funding has lapsed and districts have been left scrambling until it is restored. 

But that would end if Congress approves a bill introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

The legislation, the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, would create a permanent endowment fund for the program.

Secure Rural Schools impacts 4,400 schools and nine million students in 775 districts. It's run by the U.S. Department of the Interior. School districts received about $256 million in federal cash in fiscal year 2017. The program's authorization expired at the end of fiscal year 2018, but school districts are expected to receive about the same amount in payments for that year, according to advocates. 

Oregon, Wyden's home state, is historically the biggest beneficiary of the program. California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington also receive relatively large payments. 

The bill has the support of the National Education Association and the National Association of Counties.  But even if it is reintroduced in the next Congress, which starts Jan. 3, the proposal faces long odds on Capitol Hill, where the Trump administration and many congressional Republicans are reticent to increase school spending. You can check out a summary of it here.

Photo: Mount Shasta looms over the remains of defunct lumber company in McCloud, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP-File)


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