A key Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill meant to aid Yosemite-area schools, prompting one loud sigh of relief from Rep. George Radanovich.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved his Yosemite schools bill by voice vote.
Radanovich´s district includes all of Mariposa and Tuolumne counties, taking in all of Yosemite National Park; and some of Stanislaus County, including part of Modesto.
The long-stalled measure could mean up to $400,000 annually for the three rural schools that serve about 120 students in and around the park. Whether the money arrives is another question, but simply moving the bill this far had Radanovich in good spirits.
“It´s been amazingly frustrating,” Radanovich acknowledged. “When I was starting this bill, the school´s teachers were telling me they would use this as an example of how bills become law. Now, they´re so sick of it, they´re about ready to start a revolution.”
The legislation would allow National Park Service funds to assist Wawona, Yosemite Valley and Yosemite National Park El Portal elementary schools. The schools primarily serve children of park and concessionaire employees, and the legislation´s supporters say that improving the schools can help attract good workers.
Funding shortfalls also could compel some of the schools to close, raising the prospect of a long commute.
“Not to do this means students would have to travel two hours to get to schools, over very rural roads,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.
Yellowstone National Park is the only other park in the country where park service funds can be deployed to help schools. The Yosemite bill stalled, in part, over the concern of other Democrats that the diversion of funds to schools could end up draining other park priorities.
“I think it´s a bad precedent,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico. “If we do this in both places, then both places will be cited as precedent for doing it in other places.”
By a one-vote margin, Bingaman failed in his effort to limit the Yosemite schools funding; he wanted to make it available only if agency officials could attest that the money was “excess to the needs” of Yosemite. In essence, that would have made it much more difficult for any of the funds to be provided.
Even with Bingaman´s pro- posal squelched, though, the Yosemite schools bill backed by Radanovich and Feinstein does not guarantee funding. It only authorizes the money, and Radanovich noted Wednesday that park officials say they are already scrambling to meet their existing needs.
Feinstein, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, cut a deal with Radanovich to move the legislation along. Feinstein secured a provision to add about 4,500 acres north of Half Moon Bay to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Radanovich, in turn, successfully insisted that a 230-acre parcel — now being farmed — be excluded from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area expansion.
“With this exclusion, we can move this bill through both houses,” Feinstein said. “Without (the exclusion), it would be difficult.”