Crapo, Risch join push to save federal schools program

Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have signed on to another effort to boost funding for schools in timber country.

The Idaho Republicans joined 23 of their Senate colleagues and 53 House members in a bipartisan support of the federal Secure Rural Schools program.

The program, designed to offset declining timber revenues, was worth about $6.7 million to Idaho schools in 2016. The largest payment, slightly more than $1 million, went to the Mountain View School District in timber-rich Idaho County.

However, the SRS program expired on Sept. 30, 2015, with the last payments going out in March 2016.

“SRS payments provide critical revenues to more than 775 rural counties and 4,400 schools throughout the country, impacting 9 million students across 41 states,” the lawmakers said in a letter to the federal Office of Management and Budget. “In many cases, these ‘forest counties’ include massive swaths of public lands, particularly national forest system lands, often consuming 65 to 90 percent of total land within their boundaries.”

Mike Crapo
Sen. Mike Crapo

In a news release, Crapo and Risch emphasized the program’s importance to schools and local governments in timber country.

“Secure Rural School payments are critical to ensure that counties across Idaho and the nation are paid for the tax-exempt, federally managed lands within the state,” Crapo said.

“Until we see a significant increase in active forest management on our national forests, the federal government must uphold its commitment to support our rural counties and schools who rely on the SRS program,” Risch said.

Jim Risch
Sen. Jim Risch

The letter to OMB comes as President Trump works on his first budget request to Congress.

Established in 2000, the SRS program has survived close calls in Congress before. In September, Crapo and Risch joined a bipartisan group of senators in pushing to save SRS. Idaho Republican Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador signed on to a similar bipartisan letter from the House.