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The Yonder Report: News from rural America - February 29, 2024

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News from rural America.

Hard times could be ahead for rural school districts that spent federal pandemic money on teacher salaries, a former Oregon lumber community drafts a climate-action plan and West Virginians may soon buy raw milk from squeaky-clean cows.


(upbeat music) For the Daily Yonder and Public News Service, this is the news from rural America.

Historic federal pandemic funding was a lifesaver for rural schools, but the emergency money dries up in September and districts that spent it on teacher salaries or new hires could be headed for a financial cliff.

Bella DeMarco is with the think tank, Future Ed. - Rural districts in general have faced more staffing challenges.

Some school districts spent the extra money on technology, transportation, or infrastructure.

Others were in crisis mode, says Professor Lori Taylor with Texas A&M, and used it to pay staff. - While the government said these were gonna be one-time funds, a lot of folks spent as if they were going to be a permanent addition to their budget. - To give districts time to sort it out, the U.S.

Department of Education is relaxing spending deadlines.

Schools will just have to say by September how the money will be used.

Mining and logging have defined rural Southern Oregon, making it an unlikely place for innovative climate action, but Grants Pass is putting together an ambitious sustainability plan.

Bea Portella has more. - Passing the plan was a feat in 2023, but grant money, both for design and implementation, has been an issue.

The plan funds improvements in clean energy, waste disposal, and transportation.

JC Rowley is the city's financial director. - I don't think we're the only community out there looking for grants to help pay for some of these things.

It's a lot more competitive than it was years ago. - Karen Chase with the City's Sustainability Task Force says most rural communities lack planning personnel. - Having somebody to do this work is critical.

We have rural communities that don't have grants writers that may only have one or two paid staff. - I'm Bea Portella. - Champions of raw milk say it can prevent children's ear infections and reduce colds, but others cite food safety risks.

West Virginia House lawmakers would nonetheless let farmers sell raw milk to consumers.

Maria Moles owns Clay County's Meadow Branch Farms. - We need the legislators to listen to the farmers.

I mean, this is our life, this is our passion, this is what I do.

I built this business with my two sons. - If passed by the Senate, the bill would legalize properly labeled raw milk products.

Moles says farmers support milk safety standards by making sure equipment is sanitized and keeping cows and goats squeaky clean. - Raw milk is a ready to eat food, and we need to handle with that in mind in how we milk, what equipment we use, how we bottle it, how we store it. - More than two dozen states have legalized the sale of raw unpasteurized milk.

For the Daily Yonder and Public News Service, I'm Roz Brown.

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