Senate votes to restore federal timber money to Whatcom County schools

— Bill means millions for school districts near federal forests
— When feds pay school districts, state K-12 funding would not be reduced
— Would have generated $5 million for rural schools in 2015

OLYMPIA – The Washington state Senate Tuesday passed a measure that means more money for rural school districts located near federal forests, in Whatcom County and elsewhere.

Senate Bill 6292 ends the state’s practice of reducing payments to rural school districts when they receive federal-forest revenue. Proceeds depend on the value of timber harvests, but if the measure had been in place during the 2014-15 school year, 144 of the state’s school districts would have gotten an additional $5 million.

“This is great news for school districts in rural Whatcom County, like the Mount Baker School District,” said state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale. “We’ve been working on this for a long time. By generating more money for our rural school districts, we restore a bit of equity to our school financing system.”

When the federal government sells timber in national forests, it shares a portion of the money with local governments. The payments help compensate for the fact that the federal government does not pay property taxes. But when those payments are made in Washington, state officials reduce the amount they provide to school districts for basic education.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, passed 35-14.