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NEA Seeks Solution to Funding Forest-area Schools




Statement
of
The National Education Association
Before the
Forest Counties Payments Committee


July 10, 2002

The National Education Association, representing 2.7 million educators across the nation, is pleased to provide testimony regarding the need to find a permanent funding source to help forest and public land-impacted counties and schools.

NEA strongly supported passage of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act as a way to ensure a consistent stream of funding to impacted schools. In recent years, many forest-impacted communities saw dramatic reductions in federal forestland revenues due to significant decreases in federal timber sales. As a result, payments to many rural forest schools dropped to less than ten percent of their historic levels. Many forest communities faced devastating losses of education funding leading to reductions in teaching staff and other education personnel, elimination of extracurricular programs, cancellation of school meals programs, and postponement of desperately needed building repairs.

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act offered a sensible solution to the forest county education funding crisis by ensuring a predictable payment to federally impacted forest counties, regardless of the level of timber sales. This formula effectively removed education funding from dependence on timber sales. When the law expires in 2006, we must ensure that we have in place a permanent process for continuing to support forest county schools.

The following are NEA's recommendations for a permanent solution to the forest county schools funding problem:

  • Make Funding Mandatory. Impacted schools need a predictable, guaranteed source of income and should not have to rely on the unpredictable annual appropriations process. Providing a mandatory funding stream will enable impacted school districts to plan ahead. In addition, mandatory funding will protect schools from losing funding to competing congressional priorities, as has happened with other aid to federally-impacted areas.
  • Link Funding Levels to a Permanent Source. Current law mandates a floor for payment levels of 25 percent of forest product receipts. The law also provides a formula for distributing dollars above the floor based on the average of the three highest years of payments. If necessary, Congress could identify and earmark receipts from other sources. However, Congress must always ensure an identified funding source other than annual appropriations. Decoupling from forest land receipts should not be an option at this time.
  • Target Sufficient Funding to Impacted Schools. Any permanent funding legislation must target a fair share of dollars to schools in impacted counties, with the largest dollar amounts flowing to the schools with greatest needs. Funding from the federal legislation must supplement, not supplant, state and local dollars.
  • In addition, we recommend that the Committee include in its report to Congress information on how each state distributes the federal funding. States have diverse fund distribution formulas - allocating money for roads and other infrastructure needs in addition to schools. Funds put into general state education aid formulas may be diverted into other funding pools.
  • Adopt Legislation Addressing only this Issue. Legislation should focus solely on the forest county schools funding issue and should not address other issues related to national forests, the environment, land use, or rural economic development. While such issues are important, and do impact the amount of dollars available, they should not be included in forest county reauthorization legislation.
  • Include a Survey on Fund Use. We recommend that the Committee's report to Congress include a survey of the use of impact dollars by schools. For example, NEA leaders in Flagstaff, Arizona, report that the new law has had a significant positive impact on their district, including providing a financial cushion in the wake of decreasing state sales tax revenues. This year, Flagstaff used funds received under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to cover approximately one-fourth of their teacher salary increase.
  • Include Information on Resource Advisory Committees. We recommend that the Committee compile information on the participation of teachers and other education professionals in Resource Advisory Committee activities and other processes used to determine how funds authorized by the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act are spent.

NEA looks forward to working with this Committee and with Congress as you seek a permanent solution to the forest county funding problem. NEA will also continue to work to ensure consideration of the broader issues facing rural education, including the impact of federal lands, the unique education funding needs, and the drain of human and natural resources from rural areas.

We thank you for the opportunity to share our comments.