Sunday, March 15, 2015

Secure Rural Schools Act expires, taking rural school budgets down with it

NPR reported a few days ago from Idaho on the consequences of the expiration of school funding through the Secure Rural Schools Act.  Here's an excerpt:
The Basin School District in rural south-central Idaho has something most districts in the state don't: preschool. But now that's at risk because of federal funding cuts. 
It's not alone: Sparsely populated school districts and counties covered in federal forest lands will have less money this year — $250 million less — because Congress allowed the Secure Rural Schools Act to expire. 
* * *  
First approved by Congress in 2000, the Secure Rural Schools Act pays counties that have a lot of federal timber land. That land isn't taxable, you can't develop it, and resource and recreation opportunities are restricted. 
Now, federal-land-heavy counties across the country will get just a fraction of what they'd planned on because Congress allowed the funding to expire last September. 
Nearly every state in the country is losing money. Idaho got $28 million last year, but this year it gets $2 million.
According to the report,  Oregon's net loss—at $63 million--is the greatest of any state.  Montana and Washington are losing $19 million each.

Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has introduced a bipartisan bill that would come to the rescue of these states and school districts.  That law would reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools Act and fully fund a separate support system for these rural counties called payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT.  Crapo explains:
This is not a spending program like most federal programs.  This is a responsibility the federal government has to the states, and frankly to the counties, for the impact on the counties that is being caused by the federal government.
Idaho has more federal land than almost any other state; 63 percent of Idaho is public, federally owned land. Basin School District's county is nearly 75 percent federal.  

At about the same time that this story ran on NPR, I saw a story in my hometown newspaper, the Newton County Times announcing that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed into effect a law, Act 27, which will make a school district eligible for special funding as an isolated district if its student density is 1.5 students or less per square mile.  The prior threshold was 1.4 students per square mile, and the change was necessary if the Jasper district was to continue to receive the special funding as an isolated school.  The law was passed by the Arkansas House of Representatives by a vote of 95-0; the State Senate also passed it unanimously.  Representative David Branscum, R-Marshall, in neighboring Searcy County, authored the bill.  

1 comment:

Dakota Sinclair said...

It seems logical that the federal government should support the school system in rural areas where there is a high ownership in the county. In the example given in Idaho the federal government has essentially locked out any hope of economical development. This is a double edged sword because on one hand it helps preserve a great deal of the American landscape for future generations and protect the land from ecological harm. On the other hand that same harm brings economically welfare to the local area.

As a result it seems that federal money should go to rural schools and assist with travel budgets, education, and salaries for teachers who could find better work elsewhere. In many ways federal money should not be flowing to metropolitan areas, which, while they have their own problems, are capable of resolving those problems on their own. Rural areas have no stable income and therefor need the assistance of a third party.

On a quick google search it was good to see that the act was renewed for two years. Why Congress opted for such a short turn around is up to anyone's guess. This will lead to future battles on rural school funding in the future, especially with the discussion of what the per capita per square mile is to define "rural" in the context of receiving funding in the SRSS.