Secure Rural Schools Act

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.

Rural schools, Idaho County, bus
Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Skip Hall has been a teacher at Grangeville High School for 31 years. His early American history class with freshmen and sophomores will be one of his last: he’s retiring at the end of the school year.

As Hall’s class works together on projects, he takes a moment to reflect on the state of education in his district.

“The biggest thing I see is lack of choice for the students," Hall says.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

President Barack Obama last week signed a $200 billion Medicare bill that reforms payments to physicians. Tucked inside that massive Medicare bill was a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act, a federal program that pays rural counties and school districts with a lot of non-taxable forest land.

Gage Skidmore / Flickr Creative Commons

Congressman Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, is lashing out at fellow Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, over what Labrador perceives as criticism from Simpson.

Idaho's Rep. Labrador Votes Against Secure Rural Schools Funding

Mar 26, 2015
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho's two representatives split their votes on a bill that was overwhelmingly supported in the U.S. House Thursday that reauthorizes timber payments to rural counties with a lot of federal land.

The Secure Rural Schools Act reauthorization was tucked inside a $214 billion bill that blocks cuts in doctors' Medicare payments.

Just 37 House members voted against the bill, while 392 supported it. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, was one of the 'no' votes.

Oregon's congressional delegation is hoping to secure a two-year extension of timber payments to rural counties. The Secure Rural Schools provision is tucked in a bill the U.S. House is voting on this week.

The Basin School District in rural south-central Idaho has something most districts in the state don't: preschool. But now that's at risk because of federal funding cuts.

It's not alone: Sparsely populated school districts and counties covered in federal forest lands will have less money this year — $250 million less — because Congress allowed the Secure Rural Schools Act to expire.

Since Idaho doesn't have public preschool, schools that want to offer it have to find creative ways to pay for the program — state money isn't an option.

Loss Of Federal Timber Payments Hit Idaho Harder Than Most States

Mar 11, 2015

Idaho is among five U.S. states losing the largest amount of federal timber payments aimed at rural counties and school districts.

Congress let the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act expire in the fall of 2014, leaving Idaho counties and school districts with $26 million less than expected.

Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

The Basin School District in Idaho City has something most districts in the state don’t, preschool.

On Wednesdays, 12 preschoolers leave their small house-turned-school and walk across the playground to the high school’s music room. The children sit cross-legged in a circle and the music teacher hands out two brightly-colored sticks to each student. Music class for these preschoolers is all about rhythm, following directions, and giggling.

Congress let the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act expire in the fall of 2014, leaving Idaho counties and school districts with $26 million less than expected.

Idaho counties will bear the brunt of this loss. Seventy percent of Secure Rural Schools money goes to counties for things like road maintenance. Thirty percent goes to school districts.

Data from the Idaho Association of Counties shows Idaho County will lose more money than any other county, nearly $7.3 million.

Mike Crapo
U.S. Senate

A bill to renew federal subsidies to timber counties has been filed in the Senate.

The Secure Rural Schools program made up for federal timber revenues that declined as environmental protections reduced national forest logging, but it expired last year. Efforts to renew it failed in the lame-duck session of Congress.

The latest version was filed Thursday by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Idaho Republican Mike Crapo.

Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

In a 2010 public policy survey by Boise State University, people were asked which level of government they most trust. The federal government lagged far behind state and local entities.

timber, logging, equipment
D-Stanley / Flickr Creative Commons

The U.S. Forest Service is shutting down timber sales on national forests across the country due to the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said Friday he was informed of the move by Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

Forest Service spokesman Leo Kay confirmed the action in an email but said details were not immediately available.

It was not clear, for example, whether loggers could cut and haul off trees under contracts that have already been awarded, or whether the action affects just sales that have yet to be awarded.

Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Government agencies in Idaho know they’ll be getting less money from the federal government for the foreseeable future. That’s because of spending cuts known as the sequester. Seth Grigg with the Idaho Association of Counties says every county and school district in the state has been preparing for a 5 percent reduction in future payments from the federal government.

“Nobody was prepared to have monies that they’d already collected… for them to need to return those dollars,” Grigg says.

oatsy40 / Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho will get a $26.6 million infusion from the federal government this month. That comes from the one year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act. That law gives money to states for roads and schools in counties that have lost money due to declines in the timber industry.

The 2000 law expired early last year and congress didn't renew it until July. That delayed payments to many areas that rely on the money for school budgets.