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Letter to the House Committee on Rural Schools

July 30, 2013

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we would like to offer our views in connection with a bill included in tomorrow’s mark-up of the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act. We thank the Committee for addressing this vital issue. 

Before the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was first passed, funding for many schools near national forests had dropped dramatically due to declining revenues from timber sales—in some cases, to less than ten percent of historic levels. Students were severely impacted as teachers and education support professionals were laid off, extracurricular programs eliminated, and desperately needed building repairs postponed.  

The Act offered a solution: consistent and reliable funding for over 4,400 schools in 770 rural counties located near national forests across America. Tens of thousands of students have benefited from the program. Without it, schools and libraries in many rural communities would have closed, mental-health services would have been eliminated, educators and other public service employees would have been laid off, search-and-rescue operations and sheriffs’ patrols would have been curtailed. 

Nevertheless, forested communities in rural areas continue to struggle with extreme poverty, double-digit unemployment, and experience a host of other pressures. We know that children do best when their communities provide economic opportunities that allow parents to provide for their families—without such opportunities, families and entire communities in remote forested areas will continue to struggle. We urge Congress to consider the economic vitality of rural communities in the context of this broader discussion, and commend you on providing the necessary funding to maintain stability in such communities. 

We look forward to working with the Committee to craft a long-term, sustainable approach to meeting the needs of students and ensuring the economic vitality of forested communities in rural areas.

Sincerely,  

Mary Kusler
Director, Government Relations