A bipartisan Senate coalition is calling for the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, which provides timber revenue for rural schools and communities located near national forest land.
More than 30 lawmakers sent a letter to Senate leaders in late April encouraging the reauthorization of the program, according to Montana’s Flathead Beacon. In the letter, lawmakers called the program a “critical safety-net” for communities near federally-owned forests because those communities are unable to tax that land. Money from the timber program is used to support many community services, including schools, transportation infrastructure, and local law enforcement agencies.
The timber revenue program was enacted in 2000 and expired in 2006, but received multiple extensions until it expired again in 2014. In 2015, the program was extended as part of a ‘doc fix’ bill, and $285 million was paid to 41 states and Puerto Rico.
In March, rural schools and communities in 41 states and Puerto Rico received a total of $272 million in funding, which is the final payout from the 2015 extension. Without a reauthorization, rural school districts stand to lose a substantial amount of funding. In 2014 when the program expired and the funding formula reverted to one that was created in 1908, some districts lost up to 95 percent of the funding they historically received from the bill.
Sen. John Tester told the Flathead Beacon that if the act is not reauthorized during this year’s legislative session, it may be included in another bill’s amendment or addressed after November’s election.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.