School Funding Programs Extended For A Year

A federal funding program key to Southeast school districts will remain in place for another year.

An extension of the Secure Rural Schools Program is part of a recently passed transportation bill. The program has been a mainstay for districts in or near National Forests in and outside of Alaska.

Photo by Josh Edge, APRN - Anchorage: Senator Lisa Murkowski

Senator Lisa Murkowski says the extension is only good for one year. She had hoped for more.

“The bad news is that there’s no glide path. What we were working on was a proposal that would allow for a four- to five-year phase-down, just working it down to a point that was manageable because right now there is no certainty after this year,” Murkowski says.

Alaska got more than $15 million for schools, roads and some other projects from the program earlier this year. Murkowski says the next allocation will be 5 percent less.

She says chances for a longer extension could improve next year. That’s because the Energy and Natural Resources Committee comes up with the Senate’s funding plan for the program.

Murkowski will be the panel’s ranking Republican member. And Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who also supports the program, will be the ranking Democratic member.

“So either he or I will be the chairman of the Energy Committee, depending on what happens with the majorities. We’ve talked about this, about how we can work for a little more certainty to this program. I can’t give you any real guidelines right now in terms of how we may take it. But I think we’ve got a better shot next year for a little longer approach to the program,” Murkowski says.

Without the extension, the program will revert to a formula that provides far less funding.

The same bill also authorized another year of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes Program. That also provides federal funding to rural communities. Without another extension, it will also revert to a less lucrative formula.

That program funds firefighting, police operations, and school and road construction.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.