November 7, 2019

 Permanent link

New report: Rural schools need greater support

This guest blog post was written by Alan Richard, a national education writer and a longtime Rural School and Community Trust board member.

Many schools in rural America thrive. Rural and small-town schools are the kinds of places every parent wishes to send their children--where they can get personal attention, develop caring relationships, and find extra help and support.

Too often, however, rural schools across the country face an utter lack of adequate resources as they strive to provide all students with education that prepares them for life after high school.

That’s among the key findings of the new report Why Rural Matters 2018-19: The Time Is Now from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rural School and Community Trust.

The Rural School and Community Trust is proud to partner with AASA on the release of this report. Both organizations have worked together closely for years, and we’re honored to continue our work with the nation’s school superintendents.

 A few highlights from the new edition of Why Rural Matters

  •  Nearly 7.5 million students were enrolled in rural school districts--almost one in seven public school students in the U.S. in the 2016-17 school year. About one in six of those rural students were from families living in poverty.
  • More than 9.3 million students attended rural schools (including those in districts classified as non-rural by the National Center for Education Statistics). That’s nearly one in five U.S. students--and more students than in the nation’s 85 largest school districts combined.
  • The top 10 highest-need states in rural education, as ranked in the report across a wide array of measures: 1) Mississippi, 2) Alabama and North Carolina (tied), 4) Oklahoma, 5) South Dakota, 6) West Virginia, 7) Georgia, 8) South Carolina, 9) Louisiana, and 10) Florida.
  • In 12 states, at least half of public schools are rural:Montana, South Dakota, Vermont, North Dakota, Maine, Alaska, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Mississippi. 
  • Why policymakers sometimes forget about rural schools: A majority of rural students live in states where they’re less than 25 percent of school enrollment.  
  • The national median enrollment for rural districts is only 494 students. In 23 states, half of rural districts enroll fewer than the median.In Montana, North Dakota,andVermont, 90 percent of rural districts do.  
  • About half of rural students in the U.S. live in 10 states: Texas has the most rural students (694,000), followed by North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, and Indiana. 
  • State rankings, averages can disguise challenges: Just because your state looks good overall, doesn’t mean that rural schools don’t face major challenges. Some challenges face only specific regions or types of districts. 
  • Only 9.5 percent of the nation’s rural students passed Advanced Placement (AP) courses in 2018-19, compared with 19 percent of all U.S. high school students, 18.8 percent of urban students, and 24.1 percent of suburban students. 
  •  Rural students outscored non-rural students on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in a majority of states with available data. Rural achievement is very low in some states, however. 
  • The gap in achievement between rural students in poverty and rural students not in poverty was greatest in Maryland, Mississippi, and Washington--and narrowest in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Montana.
  • Many states provide a larger proportion of funding for rural districts, but 12 states provided less funding proportionately, including Nebraska, Vermont, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Massachusetts, California, and Ohio.
  • A national average of $6,367 is spent on the instruction of each rural student. The lowest state averages were $4,118 in Idaho and $4,737 in Oklahoma.Texas alsoinvested relatively low amounts on instruction for each rural student ($5,386). The highest averages were $14,380 in Alaska and $13,226 in New York.  
  • Many states in the Midwest and Great Plains regions invest relatively high amounts in each rural student--but about $3,500 less than most Northeastern states.  
  • Even when adjusted for comparable local wages, average rural educator salaries (all instructional staff) varied widely: Kansas was lowest at $54,454, Alaska highest at $102,736. States with the next-lowest average salaries for rural educators: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, and Missouri. The highest were in Alaska, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Wyoming.

The success and struggles of rural schools have a profound impact on our nation. We all should support greater, smarter investments in rural schools, especially those serving students who need the most support to succeed.