House Passes Rural Schools Legislation
H.R. 2389 would restore stability to forest communities
Washington, D.C. — In a bipartisan vote of 274-153, the U.S. House of Representatives today passed the County Schools Funding Revitalization Act of 1999 (H.R. 2389) which would provide rural areas with financial stability in revenues used for community schools, roads, and local forest management.
"I sincerely believe that the future stability of rural education and the quality of life in rural forest communities is, and always will be, tied to the proper management of our forest resources," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) said. "This bill not only provides for financial stability in these communities, but also helps ensure that important forest management projects will be completed."
Because the Forest Service is the dominant landowner in many rural communities, and localities are powerless to tax the agency, since 1908 the government has shared twenty-five percent of the revenue derived from national forest activities with the surrounding localities. The communities then use this revenue to finance schools and local roads. In recent years, however, federal forest revenues have plummeted more than seventy-five percent from historic averages and the payments have dropped in some communities by as much as ninety percent.
"This is an historic day for rural communities and schools all over America," said House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). "By passing this legislation, Congress has honored its century-old compact with rural America and has taken a critical step toward providing a better future for our communities, our families and our children."
The bill establishes a seven-year payment formula for counties which receive revenue-sharing payments for Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. The formula establishes a safety net level or "full payment amount" for each eligible state or county defined as the average of the three highest annual payments received by the state or county between fiscal year 1985 and the date of enactment. Eighty percent of the payment would go to fund community schools and roads, while the remaining twenty percent would be used for local forest management projects.
H.R. 2389 is premised on a set of carefully crafted compromise principles adopted by the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, a diverse grass-roots coalition of over 550 local and national organizations representing rural communities in 36 states, and including national partners such as the National Education Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and various labor organizations.
If enacted, H.R. 2389 would increase payments to rural communities by sixty-one percent or more than $145 million. The Senate is expected to begin action on H.R. 2389 in the near future.
"This bill is a perfect example of how good government works," Combest added. "A diverse coalition of grassroots activists worked with Members of Congress from both parties to carefully craft legislation that will positively affect the lives of people from coast-to-coast."