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Monday, 11 December 2006 00:47

Lack of Forest Funds Hits School Districts Hard

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slide28Congress has failed to extend a program that sends $69 million annually to rural forested counties here in California, as well as through out the nation. Although the counties will receive a final check under the program this month, budget planners could soon start trimming classes and staff in anticipation of shortfalls in the next school year. The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act has guaranteed federal funds for rural counties that formerly relied on timber harvest revenues since the year 2000. Amador County schools do receive a substantial benefit from this act, last year receiving 655,622 dollars of which 85 percent goes to support Title One programs in the district.

slide29The payments were created to backfill school district budgets hit hard with drops in federal logging income, a portion of which goes to counties with large national forest holdings to compensate for their small private tax bases.  Most of the counties are here in the West, with Oregon, California and Washington the top recipients of the school and road funding. In California, 39 counties, predominantly in the Sierra Nevada and the far north, depend on the money to some degree.

Attempts to extend the payments to 2014 were unsuccessful in Congress amid competing partisan funding visions.  "Nobody opposes this," James Parsons, superintendent of schools in Alpine County told the Los Angeles Times. In Alpine Co. 92% of the land belongs to the federal government.  "The problem," he added, "is both sides of the aisle have their different version of how they think we should be funded, and it's tied to other agendas."  A Bush administration proposal to finance the program by selling off national forest parcels collapsed when opposition from sportsmen groups turned even conservative Western congressmen against the idea.

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