Idaho schools face multimillion-dollar loss in federal funds

(UPDATED, 5:10 p.m., with details on a similar effort in the House of Representatives.)

Schools in Idaho’s timber country face a budget hit, and the state’s two U.S. senators are pushing for help from the feds.

Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have signed onto a bipartisan effort to save the federal Secure Rural Schools program.

Mike Crapo
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho

The secure schools program is designed to provide federal dollars to schools and counties in timber-rich communities. In April 2015, for example, Idaho received nearly $26 million in payments, with $6.6 million earmarked to schools.

But the program was discontinued in September 2015, and the last payments went out in March.

“School districts across the country are beginning this school year with fewer school nurses, and reduced arts, music and other student educational services,” a bipartisan group of 29 senators said in a Sept. 16 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Jim Risch
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho

The program provides funding for 4,000 school districts in 41 states, serving some 9 million students.

The senators pushing to save the rural schools program is diverse, to say the least. Supporters include Risch and Crapo and fellow Republicans such as Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John Thune of South Dakota — but also Democrats such as Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California.

A similar letter is in the works in the House, said Doug Taylor, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.

In 2015, the feds saved the Secure Rural Schools program, but the rescue triggered a public showdown between Labrador and fellow Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson. Simpson supported the extension; Labrador opposed the extension, which was tied to a larger Medicare bill.