A bill that extends the Secure Rural Schools Act, which provides timber revenue to schools located near national forests, passed the U.S. Senate this week as part of a Medicare bill that reauthorizes or extends several programs for children.
The timber revenue program was established in 2000 and expired in 2006, but received multiple extensions until its final expiration in 2014. At that point, the funding formula reverted to one that was created in 1908, which severely cut revenue to schools. Last year, 41 states shared about $300 million in funding, compared to about $50 million this year under the 1908 formula.
Districts across the country have reported that the deep funding cuts have already impacted schools. In Idaho, rural preschool programs that rely in part on funds from the Secure Rural Schools Act are at risk of shutting down. Some districts in Alaska would have lost up to 96 percent of timber revenue funds if the act had not been extended.
Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski told Alaska Public Radio Network that many rural communities are dependent on the program for a large portion of their budgets. “If we had not been able to provide for that funding, it would have been a cliff,” Murkowski said. “These communities would be left high and dry.”
The extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act is part of a ‘doc fix’ bill, which the U.S. House passed in March. The bill overhauls the reimbursement formula for doctors who serve Medicare patients, and was passed a few hours before cuts would have taken effect. The bill also reauthorizes the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Visiting Program, which supports home visiting services for families with young children, and extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.