WASHINGTON Nearly a year after the passage of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, its co-author may have found a way to make sure the funds reach rural Oregon schools.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced Thursday that hed inserted a provision in an appropriations bill to reinforce the original intent of the Wyden-Craig county payments law.
The Wyden language is not included in the House version of the appropriations bill, but Wyden said he would fight to include the provision when the two bills are reconciled.
If Wyden succeeds, schools in timber-dependent communities could receive $14.4 million more annually.
Currently, said a spokesperson for Wydens office, the Oregon State legislature is offsetting federal education funding to timber dependent communities by reducing the amount of state education funding to those communities.
Wyden said, When I pushed on a bipartisan basis to increase education funding for rural schools, I intended for that money to go to rural education.
The language I included in the Labor-HHS (Health and Human Services) bill will correct the current conflict and guarantee that schools in timber-dependent communities are supported at both the federal and state level.
The Wyden language said, Effective Oct. 1, 2002, the portion of the funds made available to a state shall be used to supplement and not supplant state (including local) public funds expended to provide free public education.
The spokesperson said, This will guarantee that rural schools in Oregons timber-dependent counties will receive the full funding originally intended in the initial county payments bill.
Paul Prevenas, superintendent of Brookings-Harbor School District 17-C, said Friday that this was the first good news hes heard about school funding in some time.
Local school districts in timber-dependent counties have a lot to gain from Sen. Wydens latest proposal, he said.
He said his district certainly falls into that category and will support any effort, state or federal, to restore the original intent of the bill.
More power to him, said Prevenas. It was a really good effort on Sen. Wydens part.
He said with state cutbacks, federal funding could be more important than ever next year.
Hopefully, theyre thinking proactively how to enforce the law, said Prevenas.
He said if the federal payments were sent directly to the school districts, it would be easier to tell if the state was cutting funding or not.
The original bill, sponsored by Wyden and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, directed $1.3 billion to be sent to Oregon counties over six years for education, roads and county services.
The Wyden-Craig bill was created to guarantee a steady, reliable funding stream to rural counties dependent upon rapidly declining receipts from federal timber sales, said a Wyden spokesperson.
Prevenas said he was pleased to learn that Wyden was still pushing for the school funding contained in the original bill.
In March, the entire Oregon Congressional delegation sent letters to Oregons governor and state legislature urging the federal funding to be passed on to the schools.
At the same time, the Curry County Commissioners passed a resolution supporting the original intent of the bill.
Local and state school officials said at the time that they were still waiting for any net gain in funding from the bill.