A political push is under way to re-up 10-year-old legislation that sends millions of dollars to rural schools to replace federal timber revenue.
Some 29 senators and 69 House members from states that have money at stake have signed on to a letter asking President Obama to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and include funding in his 2012 budget.
The SRSCA will expire in September 2011, taking money and jobs from rural communities already strapped by the economy, lawmakers say. The act provides federal aid to make up for diminished timber-tax revenues in districts that are home to national forests. It began in 2000, and Congress renewed the funding in 2008 as part of the $700 million rescue package to shore up banks and credit markets.
States as geographically diverse as Oregon, Montana, and Mississippi benefit from SRSCA funds, and lawmakers from those states are making the prospect of cuts in public schools a key part of the argument for renewal. Few specifics are available about how many dollars fund classroom-related needs. Yet, advocates say rural schools will lose teachers.
“Without a comprehensive, long-term solution to reductions in Secure Rural Schools funding, counties in North Mississippi will be forced to cut education resources for our children and lay off teachers,” said Rep. Travis Childers, a Democrat representing Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District.
For 2009, the Secure Rural Schools and Self-Determination Act provided approximately $419 million in funding to 729 rural counties and parishes across the country. Critics say the payments were never meant to be permanent but to ease the transition to other revenue sources for local economies affected by new timber policies.
To read more about how advocates say SRSCA reauthorization will affect rural schools and communities:
The Partnership for Rural America, which exists primarily to push for SRSCA renewal, has a downloadable Powerpoint about the legislation. (Look under "Campaign") Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat representing Oregon's 4th District, argues for fairness in a post on his website. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, both Democrats from Montana, call the SRSCA a "contract" between rural America and the federal government and urge long-term renewal in a news release.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.