Rural Schools Face Funding Cuts As Timber Sales Agreement Lapses | St. Louis Public Radio

Rural Schools Face Funding Cuts As Timber Sales Agreement Lapses

Oct 28, 2019

Dozens of rural Missouri school districts are crying “timber” after Congress allowed legislation that sends half of federal timber profits to schools lapse again.

That includes the Alton School District in Oregon County, not far from the Arkansas border, where Superintendent Eric Allen said the district will have to consider staff cuts if the funding isn’t renewed over the winter.

“It seems we just completed our, for lack of a better way to put it, our griping and complaining about this matter, and we’re right back basically in exactly the same spot again here less than two years later,” Allen said.

The Secure Rural Schools Act splits revenue from timber and mining sales on federal land 50-50 with local school districts. It’s a way to compensate districts that don’t receive property taxes on land owned by the federal government. 

Nearly a quarter of Missouri’s 518 school districts rely on federal timber revenue as a funding source, from $233 in the Shelby County School District to $260,400 in the Bunker School District.

But in recent years, the funding has become less reliable as Congress has not automatically renewed the act. When it expires, the split reverts to a 1908 law that gives only 25% of timber profits to schools, cutting funding for districts in half.

The six-figure losses in funding are big hits to districts whose annual budgets are only a few million dollars. Some eliminated staffing positions or postponed capital expenses.

Congress last renewed the measure as part of an omnibus spending package in March 2018, ending a four-year funding drought for schools. That allowed schools to purchase long-needed buses, pave parking lots and put money into their rainy day funds.

Allen said the federal government did make back payments toward what it owed over that four-year period. But he’s already planning a budget in which his revenue will again be halved.

“Part of it just went into the piggy bank knowing that the two-year window was going to be up, and then also we did purchase two buses over the summer,” he said.

Allen said he and other superintendents are speaking with Missouri’s congressional delegation.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt called the Secure Rural School Act “vital” funding for education in a statement to St. Louis Public Radio.

“I support the program and would like to see it extended as soon as possible while Congress continues to look at longer-term funding solutions,” said Blunt, a Republican.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org