Why We Must Continue Funding Rural Schools

Idaho has a high percentage of federally-owned land (63%), which presents challenges regarding funding for local school districts; the federal land is removed from the tax base, which has been the usual method for funding schools and local infrastructure.  To make up for this federally-created deficit, many counties in Idaho and other rural states have received payments through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and PILT payments (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) from the federal government.  But with the drastic reduction in timber activity, Idaho students are paying a high price as school districts throughout the state are finding themselves in dire straits.  For example, Idaho’s Fremont County is one of the counties across the state and nation that have been faced with this problem.  Fremont County is looking at not only eliminating road and bridge services but also students would be impacted by a loss of nursing services for students, playground and safety equipment at elementary schools, library books, and continuing education instructions.

We cannot in good conscience force our local municipalities to choose between educating students and maintaining local services.  That’s why I support an amendment proposed to the supplemental appropriations legislation.  It would provide for continuation of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, and the five-year reauthorization of the program through the Wyden amendment.  Counties and school districts across this country are poised to cut much needed jobs and services without this continuation.  Many of us have heard the urgent calls from constituents.  The message has been clear – ‘Please help us.’  And, I’m proud to answer that call by supporting this reauthorization.
Ideally, management of our forested land would generate the revenue necessary to assist with services in cash-strapped communities with large amounts of federally owned land.  Unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case for some time.  We must continue to work to remove impediments to forest health and productivity.  However, in the meantime, Congress must commit the resources necessary to ensure that rural communities across this country do not have to forgo road maintenance, close libraries, and make cuts to children’s education.  Anything less is unacceptable.