The Case for a National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition

The most rural and the most urban, the smallest and the largest, the richest and the poorest: These are the traditional descriptors of the poles of American public education. In all of the states, there is an acknowledgment of these conditions in their school funding criteria, as well as in the establishment of eligibility for programs and services.

How the needs of each group of schools so defined have been met by the states varies from one to the other. One commonality is that if state funding doesn’t take care of the rich, they will provide for themselves. At an earlier time in our nation, a greater commitment to the need to serve a common good meant a more openhanded attitude towards the sharing of resources.

As the willingness to provide those resources that children need to receive a quality education has diminished at the state and national level, and local boards have shouldered an increasing and disproportionate share of that responsibility, groups representing the interests of each of the poles mentioned above have become active as advocates for change.

For rural education this has been true in some states but not all, and other than the work done over the last few years by the National Rural Education Association, in conjunction with the American Association of School Administrators, there was no such advocacy being done at the national level.

This vacuum might have remained unfilled were it not for two major pieces of federal law that express the intent of both the Congress and the Executive Branch to strongly exert their vision of education policy on both the states and local districts. Those laws are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Both IDEA and NCLB are, among other things, statements of the federal government’s intent to play a dominant role in how the educational process is carried out and assessed for each individual child in the United States. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this state of affairs, the choice for those involved in rural public education as provider, consumer or taxpayer is clear: Get involved and be heard or remain silent and take what you are given.

It was with these thoughts in mind that the leadership of the NREA, AASA and (initially) nine of the state rural education organizations/associations have worked during the past year to create an expanded, more organized, better financed national rural advocacy effort to be known as the National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition (NREAC).

The purpose of the National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition is to advocate for the highest quality education for the children of rural America's public schools. As an advocate for rural education in your state, the newly formed coalition invites your organization/association participation in an expanded voice for the national legislative process.