The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be discussing bills to fund programs that help pay for public schools and infrastructure in rural areas this Thursday.
The programs at the center of this meeting are Payments in Lieu of Taxes (or PILT) and Secure Rural Schools (or SRS).
PILT is meant to make up for the lack of property taxes counties can get from federal land, while SRS is largely for areas with shrinking timber industries on nearby federal lands. Funding for both has lapsed.
Chris Born is the superintendent of the Salmon School District in Idaho. He said the funding challenges for small and remote school populations is huge, and that they often have to get creative with the funding they do get to meet all school mandates.
“Yeah, we can use funding, doesn’t matter how little it is, we can find a spot to use it,” he said.
Lawmakers are trying to re-fund the programs, but they’re also trying to fund them for longer periods of time and offer more help to the most sparsely populated areas.
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is backing one bill to make sure SRS funds are steady and don’t come up every year or two. This last summer, he said, “This solution is going to help us stop the rollercoaster and establish a stable source of funding to help our counties, to help our schools.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.