Underfunded rural schools will languish unless Congress acts soon

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By Amanda Litvinov

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Six months ago, EdVotes reported that more than 4,000 rural schools spread across 41 states could face draconian cuts because Congress had not renewed funding for the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS).

Nothing has changed yet—but bipartisan bills to restore funding have been introduced in the House and Senate.

The FY 2017 funding bill released by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this week does not include a single penny for SRS funding, which puts education programs and opportunities for more than 9 million students at risk.

SRS funding represents a commitment from the federal government to help support communities on or near federal lands, such as national forests, that were removed from local tax rolls. But SRS expired in 2015.


Superintendent Karen Douglas recorded this video last year to explain to Congress how students in her district will be hurt by the loss of SRS funds.

“We had enough reserves that we could keep everything running for the 2016-17 school year,” said Karen Douglass, superintendent of the Stevenson-Carson School District in Washington state. “But we have to make $1.4 million in cuts for next year to make up for the loss of SRS funds.”

Unless SRS funding is restored soon, Douglass will have to carry through with those devastating cuts.

Stevenson-Carson students will likely lose music, visual arts, theater, and sports. Class sizes will grow if teachers and paraprofessionals lose their jobs—and those cuts are on the table.

The 775 rural counties that will have to absorb the loss of SRS funds voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, whose actions during his first 100 days in office do not reflect any allegiance to rural families.

Trump’s own budget proposal would cut $9 billion from more than 20 education programs–which serve both rural and urban children–including:

  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (supports after-school programs)
  • Title II, which helps states hire and train teachers
  • TRIO and other college access programs that put higher education into reach for more students
  • The Comprehensive Literacy Development Grant program
  • Impact Aid, which provides funding for schools near federally protected lands that do not generate local tax revenues.

Meanwhile, Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have proposed a $1.4 billion boost to voucher and charter school schemes that are extremely unlikely to help vulnerable students in rural counties. The Trump-DeVos plan is guaranteed to drain even more resources from already struggling rural public schools.

But there are members of Congress who understand the urgent need to renew the Secure Rural Schools Act.

On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to discuss the importance of Secure Rural Schools and Payments in Lieu of Taxes, two programs that support counties and schools impacted by heavy federal presence in their communities.

On Wednesday, lawmakers in the Senate and the House introduced bills (S. 1027 and HR 2340) with strong bipartisan support to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act.

Urge your Member of Congress or Senator to cosponsor these critical bills!

 

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