Tester, Walsh bill to save Montana schools millions moves forward

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester and John Walsh’s bill to save Yellowstone-area school districts from paying millions of dollars to fix a mistake made by the federal government is one step closer to becoming law.

Tester and Walsh’s measure was recently added to a larger bill that funds the Department of Interior for the 2015 Fiscal Year. Their measure, introduced earlier this year, will protect three school districts near Yellowstone National Park.

The Senators’ bill is needed because since 1977 the federal government has overpaid the school districts after failing to adjust for a change in the law that prevents school districts from receiving resources from both the Payments-in-Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program and an older program meant to compensate communities in the vicinity of Yellowstone.

When the Interior Department’s error was recently discovered, the department threatened to request repayment from Gardiner School Districts 4 and 7 and Gallatin School District 69. Repayment would force the districts to make drastic budget cuts in order to balance their budgets.

Tester and Walsh’s bill puts an end to speculation about repayment. The Senators said it was unfair and unrealistic to make the schools pay for the government’s mistake.

“This is a big step forward in our efforts to make sure Montana students and families aren’t forced to pay for someone else’s mistake,” Tester said. “Asking these school districts to return funds that were awarded for over 30 years ago is simply unfair. These rural school districts do not have the resources to return that money. It should go to books and resources to help our kids learn.”

“These school districts shouldn’t have to worry about drastic cuts and layoffs due to an error from over 30 years ago,” Walsh said. “This bill will make sure Montana’s school districts can get back to their main focus: providing quality education to Montana’s students.”

As a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Interior Department, Tester fought to include the measure in the bill.

Tester and Walsh’s bill, the Yellowstone Community Education Fairness Act is available online HERE.