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Congress Temporarily Renews Funding Program For Rural Schools


Rural school districts won't have to squeeze their budgets quite as tightly as they'd feared. A funding program that Congress let expire last year has been extended. It's called the Secure Rural Schools Act, and it pays hundreds of millions of dollars to states that have a lot of federal land. Boise State Public Radio's Emilie Ritter Saunders reports.

EMILIE RITTER SAUNDERS, BYLINE: When President Barack Obama signed a $200 billion Medicare bill, it was dubbed the doc fix.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The Senate overwhelmingly passed what's known as the doc fix.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: That celestial sound you heard late last night was Congress passing bipartisan legislation with overwhelming support.



SAUNDERS: What's been largely overlooked is that a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act was tucked inside that Medicare doc fix bill. Secure Rural Schools was first approved by Congress in 2000 and since then it's been paying counties that have a lot of federal timber land because local governments can't make money on the land - it's not taxable and you can't develop much of it. Without extending the program, rural counties across the country would've had $250 million less to work with this year.

JOHN MCFARLANE: Huge sigh of relief.

SAUNDERS: John McFarlane is the superintendent, principal and science teacher at the Basin School District in Central Idaho. McFarlane's district was considering cuts to programs like preschool, sports, music and art. A two-year extension of Secure Rural Schools means program cuts are likely off the table.

MCFARLANE: We're very careful to underestimate revenue and overestimate expenses, and we want to continue with that.

SAUNDERS: Still, counties and schools in nearly every state that rely on this money will be in the same precarious spot two years from now once this extension expires.

DAN CHADWICK: It's not stable. It's not predictable.

SAUNDERS: Idaho Association of Counties' executive director, Dan Chadwick, says Congress periodically reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools Act isn't good for places that rely on this money.

CHADWICK: We need some long-term solution to this issue so we don't get in this position every year or every two years.

SAUNDERS: Chadwick and Idaho's Congressional delegation would rather see rural places with a lot of federal land have the option of making money by harvesting more timber or other kinds of natural resource extraction, but that is an entirely different debate. For NPR News, I'm Emilie Ritter Saunders in Boise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emilie is Boise State Public Radio's digital content coordinator. She helps shape what you see on this website, from original reporting and building data visuals to story planning and social media outreach.