The National Education Association, representing three million educators across America, urged U.S. House members to approve the “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” to restore economic opportunities and education funding in rural communities. Here’s what they had to say:
On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association, we would like to offer our views in connection with the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526), scheduled to be voted on this week. This bill provides a path forward to providing a lifeline for rural schools in great need: dependable sources of funding. Among its five titles, it provides an approach for long-term funding for communities that currently receive Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act dollars, as well as crucial transition funding.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act was designed to create a consistent, reliable funding stream for over 4,400 schools in 770 rural counties located near national forests across the United States. Before it was 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. Over the years, tens of thousands of students have benefited from the program.
Nevertheless, forested communities in rural areas continue to struggle with extreme poverty, double-digit unemployment, and other pressures. We know that children do best in communities with economic opportunities that allow families to provide for their children—without such opportunities, families and entire communities will continue to struggle.
We support a long-term, sustainable approach to meeting the needs of students and ensuring the economic vitality of forested communities in rural areas. Rural children, families, and communities across the country are depending on Congress to provide leadership on this critical issue.
We urge Congress to consider the economic vitality of rural communities in the context of this broader discussion, which HR 1526 attempts to do. Moreover, we commend the authors of this bill for providing the necessary transition funding to maintain stability in such communities. This funding is absolutely critical as school districts strive to meet our students’ needs.