By Amanda Litvinov
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Last fall, EdVotes reported that Congress was a year overdue in renewing funding for the Secure Rural Schools Act, leaving more than 4,000 rural school districts that are near federally protected lands short on critical funding.
Another year has passed and nothing has changed.
Although the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) does have bipartisan support, lawmakers have not managed to reauthorize its funding, leaving states to deal with the shortfall.
“Congress promised that money to local communities in lieu of property taxes when the federal government took over those lands,” says Karen Schuett, a third grade teacher of 35 years and Republican voter. “They’re behind and they need to keep up.”
SRS funding expired in December of 2015, and the last payments were delivered in March of 2016.
“When that money isn’t there, it’s a strain on school budgets,” says Schuett.
In rural California, SRS funding helps school districts pay for transportation, broadband internet access, and educational offerings that keep opportunity for students in rural schools on par with their peers in urban and suburban school districts.
Schuett recently traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of a coalition working to restore SRS funding. She says she had a number of positive meetings with members of Congress and their staff, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
“Everyone we met with seems to understand the importance of funding SRS, and they all want to see this reauthorized. The problem seems to be finding the right vehicle, given the gridlock around the federal budget,” said Schuett.
Nationally, nine million students across 41 states are affected by the loss of SRS funding. Some districts have tapped reserves to retain staff and programming, but others have already had to make deep cuts.
Many rural districts started the school year with fewer school nurses, reduced arts and music, and fewer staff as a direct result of losing SRS funding if the state or local community can’t make up the difference. Some high schools have made so many cuts that students cannot fulfill the basic requirements of their state universities.
Meanwhile, President 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.