Senators make bipartisan push for Secure Rural Schools funding

Senators from Idaho and Oregon are banding together on a bill designed to stabilize the federal Secure Rural Schools program.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho

The bill, introduced Thursday, would create a permanent endowment to support counties and schools in timber country. The pricetag is about $7.1 billion.

In recent years, the Secure Rural Schools program has provided about $7 million annually to Idaho schools. That’s not a large sum of money — in the context of a $1.8 billion state budget for K-12 — but the federal funding provides a big chunk of the budget in districts such as Mountain View, Kellogg and Salmon. The money is supposed to make up for declining revenues from federal timber sales.

However, the 2000 program has been in political limbo for years.

That’s why Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are pushing the endowment idea.

“Establishing a growing endowment for the Secure Rural Schools program will end the need for short-term or retroactive reauthorizations of this program,” Crapo said Thursday.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho

“We owe our communities the certainty of a long-term solution,” Risch said Thursday.

As timber harvests increase over time, the endowment and the payments to counties and schools would grow, according to a summary of the bill. But first, Congress would need to put in one-time money to establish the endowment.

Sponsors have not “scored” the bill — that is, they have not attached a pricetag to it. The bill only sets up the mechanism to create an endowment, and it would take about $7.1 billion to create a sustainable fund, Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said.

As the senators seek to create a rural schools endowment — and, ultimately, seek money to fund it — they are hoping to tap into support that crosses ideological and geographic lines. Since schools in 41 states receive some share of money from the Secure Rural Schools program, it has garnered support from Republicans such as Risch and Crapo, and Democrats such as Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Dianne Feinstein of California.

“The Secure Rural Schools program is important to dozens of states and this proposal should receive strong, bipartisan support,” Crapo said Thursday.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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