Rural schools located near national forest land in 41 states and Puerto Rico will share $285 million this year in payments, according to an announcement Monday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The funding is the result of the two-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which passed the U.S. House in March and the U.S. Senate earlier this month as part of a Medicare, or ‘doc fix’ bill. That bill also provided $800 million for the Maternal, Infant, and Early-Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) and extended the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, or CHIP, for two years.
Prior to the bill’s passage, a group of rural school organizations, led by AASA, the School Superintendents Association, urged members of Congress to include rural schools in the Medicare bill.
“For many rural counties once dependent on timber revenue, SRS [Secure Rural Schools] payments are the lifeblood of local schools and communities, helping them avoid school closures, teacher and public employee layoffs, library closures, and reduced mental health services,” wrote Noelle Ellerson, AASA’s associate executive director of policy and advocacy, in a March letter to members of the House.
In the wake of the act’s expiration last year, the overall funding for 41 states was cut from $300 million to $50 million. Rural districts across the nation reported that the deep funding cuts would greatly impact schools. In Idaho, rural preschool programs that rely in part on funds from the Secure Rural Schools Act were reportedly at risk of shutting down. According to U.S. Forest Service data analyzed by NPR and Boise State Public Radio, some states, like Alaska, would have lost up to 96 percent of their federal forest funding if the act had not been reauthorized.
According to a press release from the United States Department of Agriculture, individual counties can determine their share of funding on this Forest Service website.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.