Measure would keep federal funds flowing to rural school districts | SierraSun.com

Measure would keep federal funds flowing to rural school districts

Soumitro Sen
Sun News Service

State senators may soon act on a resolution that would urge Congress to provide stable funding to roads and schools in rural counties with U.S. Forest Service lands, said Bill Bird, spokesman for Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley.

A measure authored by Aanestad, requesting the federal money, was approved unanimously by the Senate Committee on Education this week, Bird said. The measure will go to the Senate floor within a month, he added.

The measure comes at a time when budget cuts are jeopardizing jobs and services in schools in Nevada County and elsewhere, doubling the effect of declining revenues that come with shrinking school attendance.

Through the measure, state senators want Congress to make up for money formerly channeled to rural schools through the Secure Schools and Community Self Determination Act.

In 1908, the National Forest Revenue Act promised money from timber sales to rural schools in areas with national forests. Known as timber receipts, the money offset the cost of educating the children of loggers and the wear and tear on local roads of logging trucks.

Nevada County has 150,000 acres of national forest land, said Ben Chambers, with the county’s information and general services department.

But timber receipts declined with environmental concerns limiting the federal timber sales program in the 1990s. Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act in 2000 to continue funding rural schools.

Nevada County receives about $637,000 a year from the Secure Rural Schools Act, Bird said. Half the money goes to county schools and the other half to maintain roads, he added.

The Secure Rural Schools Act expired last year but was extended to September 2009, Bird said.

“There is no funding commitment for 2009 or 2010,” Bird said. “If schools don’t get that funding commitment, they will have to send out letters warning teachers of cutbacks.

“This is not a binding measure,” Bird said of the Senate resolution. “It is urging Congress to renew this program. … The Congress may choose either to take actions or ignore it.

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail ssen@theunion.com or call 477-4229.