Senate Committee Talks About Idaho Rural Schools Funding

May 3, 2017

Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruikshank testifies during a Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Secure Rural Schools Act Tuesday, May 2 2017.
Credit Screengrab / Senate Natural Resources Committee

Sunday night, Congress negotiated a budget bill to fund the government for the next six months. One provision not included was a reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act, or SRS.

The almost 20-year-old law sends money to rural counties with a high percentage of federal land, to offset the loss of property taxes that fund local schools. Counties like Valley County, Idaho, where the disappearance of timber industry dollars has made paying for county services a lot more difficult.  

Since Congress stopped funding the program in 2015, Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruikshank has had to make difficult decisions about how to pay for road repairs and teacher salaries.

“This year our county attempted to purchase crushed rock for road construction – we initially budgeted $300,000 but found it would cost almost $800,000," says Cruikshank. "Previously SRS would have allowed us to proceed, but today we do not have the extra money.”

Cruikshank was one of many western state leaders to testify in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee Tuesday. Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden – who penned the original legislation with former Idaho Senator Larry Craig – laid out what was at stake then and now.

“The reason we feel so strongly about Secure Rural Schools and the urgency is without it," says Wyden, "we aren’t going to keep the doors open in much of rural America.”

Idaho Senator Jim Risch – who is also on the committee – said that a permanent solution can and must be found among the committee. He committed his support to reauthorize SRS, while adding his hopes that states would take over more active management of forest lands from the federal government.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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