Rural School Districts Try to Avoid Fiscal ‘Cliff’

The clock is ticking for California’s rural school districts. This October, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self‐Determination Act (SRS) is set to expire. If lawmakers don’t re-authorize it, rural districts fear they’ll tumble over a fiscal ‘cliff.’

SRS was first passed 23 years ago to compensate for the long-term decline in logging revenue. It “has served as an increasingly tattered bandage for rural communities,” Bill Imbergamo, Executive Director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, told the Los Angeles Times.  

The law has since been reauthorized nine times. In 2022, SRS provided $238 million to 742 counties across 41 states and Puerto Rico.

Four Northern California superintendents traveled to Washington, D.C. this month to convince lawmakers to keep the funds coming: Sheree Beans (Trinity County Office of Education), Anmarie Swanstrom (Mountain Valley Unified School District), Jaime Green (Trinity Alps Unified School District), and Roger Macdonald (Northern Humboldt Union High School District). 

Fighting for SRS renewal is nothing new, but it’s especially critical this time around. Schools are already set to lose billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief next year. 

Rural counties have long felt forgotten by lawmakers at both the state and federal levels. The need to beg for these funds only sharpens that sentiment.

“The central focus is on the children in larger cities, urban areas,” Small School Districts Assn. Executive Director Tim Taylor told the Times. “Rural schools get forgotten.”

The good news, according to Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), is that SRS is very likely to be reauthorized. The bad news — thanks to political divisions in Congress — is that it’s unlikely to become a permanent program any time soon.