JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A federal law allowing local schools to keep a greater share of the money generated by National Forests within their boundaries has expired, causing many rural schools across Missouri to lose funding and cut teaching positions. Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst joined with Missouri Association of School Administrators President Dr. Allan Markley in a letter to Missouri’s Congressional Delegation urging their prompt action to resolve this issue by reinstating the Secure Rural Schools Act and restoring funding to local schools. The letter reads as follows:
Education is critical to the health of our rural communities and we are very concerned that failure to reauthorize a critical federal program will negatively impact school districts throughout Missouri and almost every other state in the nation.
The Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) authorizes revenues collected from activities on federally-owned lands to be distributed to school districts and counties where such land is located. This successful program provides a formula under which rural counties with federally-owned land are compensated for the reduction to their local tax base. Payments are made from a portion of revenue generated by the sale of natural resources on federally-owned land. For FY2015, Missouri counties and school districts received approximately $3.13 million under SRS. A listing of SRS payments is attached for your review.
Authorization of the SRS has lapsed and payments to counties and school districts have reverted back to levels prescribed under permanent law passed in 1908. As a result, payments to Missouri fell by more than $2 million in FY2016. At a recent meeting with school administrators, we learned firsthand the extent to which school districts, many of which are very small, rely on this funding. Unfortunately, contingency plans are a necessity as it is very difficult for schools to make budgetary decisions given the uncertainty of this source of funding. Failure to reauthorize this program or provide stability in the program will ensure resources and services for rural students will be cut.
Our organizations strongly support swift reauthorization of SRS, including retroactive payments to counties and school districts. This issue is a priority of our organizations and we ask that you do everything in your power to push for the SRS reauthorization of at least five years. There is no compelling reason for Congress to not reauthorize this program in a timely manner; further delays will hurt students whose education is critical to the long-term success of our nation’s rural communities.
We appreciate your interest and stand ready to assist your efforts in any way.