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Future Uncertain For Secure Rural Schools Act Funding

Federal officials last week touted the distribution of more than $307 million for rural schools and roads, but the future of that funding is far from certain.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called the payments from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, which will benefit 41 states and Puerto Rico, part of the department's "long-standing commitment to rural communities, schools and American youth." He said the money was "one of many ways in which the Forest Service, as a good neighbor and partner, contributes to rural communities becoming self-sustaining and prosperous."

But those were the final disbursements that will come from the law unless it is renewed. It expired in September.

The law gives rural communities in national forest areas money to compensate for revenue lost because of restrictions on harvesting timber in those regions. The program has been around since 2000 and was extended until 2011. Rural communities nationwide have come to depend on those funds for public services.

The money has benefited 7 million children who live in 729 counties, according to the Partnership for Rural America campaign, which was formed to advocate for a long-term, 10-year reauthorization of the legislation.

Economists at Oregon State University found that in that state alone, 4,000 jobs, $400 million in business sales, and $250 million in income could be lost if the act isn't renewed, and those estimates don't include the cuts to school funding. In 2007-08, nearly $32 million in Secure Rural Schools funding—or more than 13 percent of the overall total of $230 million—went to Oregon schools, according to the report.

President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget includes a request for the reauthorization of the law for five years.

KABC-TV, in Los Angeles, recently ran an extensive story on this issue. The story appears to have been reported by California Watch, a group of journalists dedicated to investigative reporting. They said lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced legislation to extend the program another five years (with lower payments), and those bills have bipartisan support.

Still, it's uncertain whether the bill can win enough support for a third time, according to the story, which said the program "is reigniting a long-standing debate over how rural communities should support themselves."

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