A bipartisan group of 32 senators is urging the inclusion of at least a two-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program in the end-of-the-year legislation.
The Secure Rural Schools program provides resources to support local schools, transportation and public safety services. On U.S. Forest Service land, the federal government has historically shared 25% of timber harvest revenues with counties to compensate for federal ownership. On certain land managed by the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Land Management shares 50% of the revenue for rural counties, sometimes referred to as “forest counties,” has seen significant decreases, often decimating impacted county budgets.
In a bipartisan letter to Congressional leadership, McCaskill and 31 colleagues wrote: “In the interest of working together in a bipartisan way to support local rural communities, we ask that you include a reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools in any end-of-the-year legislation.”
Funding for the Secure Rural Schools program expired in 2015, leaving more than 775 counties and 4,400 school districts nationwide with budget shortfalls. As a result of the program’s expiration, Missouri counties for instance saw a more than $2 million decrease in their most recent payment.
The rural counties not only receive the timber revenue-sharing receipts. “These receipts are up to 80% less than what forest counties received under SRS,” the letter noted to Senate leadership.
“Public schools are the beating hearts of our small towns and rural communities in Missouri—and I’m not about to let up in my fight to see them get the resources they need,” said Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.). “There’s a whole lot of noise and whole lot of must-pass legislation in Washington as the year comes to a close, but I’m going to keep fighting to fund our rural schools and make sure our rural communities aren’t forgotten and left on the cutting room floor.”
The letter added, “Without the certainty of SRS payments, schools, libraries, and jails are closing. Schools that remain open will see a reduction of teachers. Roads go unpaved and become unsafe. Mental and physical health services are scaled back or even ended. Fewer and fewer law enforcement officers are forced to patrol larger and larger areas.”
Secure Rural Schools was first enacted in 2000 as local governments faced steep reductions in timber revenue sharing. Current revenue sharing payments are no longer sufficient to support the services forest counties must provide, the senators claim.
The Trump Administration included no funding for the program in its budget.