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Study: Rural Students Lack Access to After-School Options

Low-income students living in rural areas are less likely than their urban and suburban peers to be enrolled in after-school programs. That's one of the findings of a new analysis from the Washington-based Afterschool Alliance.

"From Big Cities to Small Towns" looks at participation and demand for beyond-school options in different types of communities across the United States. The report, which was sponsored by JCPenney Afterschool, finds that demand is greater than supply for after-school initiatives in communities across the board, whether rural, urban, or suburban.

The study—which is based on a 2009 survey of nearly 30,000 parents and guardians—goes on to say that only 13 percent of low-income students in rural areas participate in after-school learning compared with 21 percent of such students in suburban areas and 30 percent of poor students in cities. And researchers find that just 10 percent of rural students overall attend after-school programming compared with a national participation average of 15 percent.

Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant called the new findings "alarming" because they show "that nearly 3 million rural children in this country are missing out on the educational, enriching activities that after-school programs provide," she says in a press release issued today.

"We need more dedicated funding to ensure that rural communities are equipped with the resources to offer quality after-school programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families," Grant adds.

But Marty Strange, the policy director for the Arlington, Va.-based Rural School and Community Trust cast the findings in a different light. Providing more after-school options is just one part of solving a much larger problem for rural schools, Strange e-mailed me.

"Calling for more money for after-school programs is only useful for high-poverty rural schools if it is in addition to, and not just" a partitioning of their current funding, Strange writes. "Categorical funding streams are the bane of small school administrators trying to cover costs across a small student population."

Other findings from the report include:

  • More than half the parents interviewed for the study said "current economic conditions have affected their ability" to pay for after-school enrichment.
  • Public schools are the main provider of after-school care for children in all three types of communities: urban, rural, and suburban.
  • While urban and suburban parents cite affordability as their biggest impediment to after-school, rural parents generally pointed to the availability of programs as the biggest hurdle they face.
  • Urban parents are the most likely to worry that their children don't have safe places to go after school: 17 percent of urban parents reported being concerned, compared with 12 percent of rural parents and 11 percent of suburban parents.
  • Urban parents were also the most likely group to complain that after-school programs were not conveniently located.
I'm still hoping to hear from others representing rural schools, and have several queries out now. If I get responses, I'll update the blog accordingly.
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