By Amanda Litvinov
Last week Congress released funds, held up for years, that support public schools in rural communities.
Federal lawmakers failed to reauthorize funding for the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) in 2015, leaving more than 4,400 rural schools that are on or near federally protected lands short on critical funding.
SRS was introduced in 2000 to replace taxes and timber sales revenue. But funding for the program expired in December 2015, and the last payments were delivered in March 2016.
“Congress promised that money to local communities in lieu of property taxes when the federal government took over those lands,” said Barbara Schuett, a third grade teacher of 36 years from California.
“When that money isn’t there, it’s a strain on school budgets,” Schuett said.
That’s why thousands of educators reached out to members of Congress to ask them to take action to reinstate SRS payments. More than 5,300 letters to Congress were sent through NEA’s Legislative Action Center alone.
In rural California where Schuett lives, 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.
Nationally, 9 million students across 41 states were affected by the loss of SRS funding. Some districts tapped reserves to retain staff and programming, but others were forced to make deep cuts over the years they did not receive SRS payments.
Many rural districts started the school year with fewer school nurses, reduced offerings in the arts and music, and fewer staff as a direct result of losing SRS funding if their state or local community couldn’t make up the difference. Some high schools have made so many cuts that students were unable fulfill the basic requirements of their state universities.
SRS was renewed as part of the FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill that passed in March. Payments for fiscal year 2017 were reinstated on May 7.