(UPI)--The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release more than $384 million to rural communities in 41 states and Puerto Rico to help improve public schools and roads.

The money this year is the beginning of a six-year effort to provide $1.1 billion through the Forest Service. States with national forest systems will be the recipients of grant money.

Money also will be used to strengthen forest stewardship programs, and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said the schools and forests can go together.

"These funds will allow local communities valuable resources so they can determine their needs and make the proper investments to help our children and strengthen rural areas," Veneman said.

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