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White House Report Highlights Investments In Rural America

Rural schools often have stronger parent involvement and greater community support than their urban counterparts, but more needs to be done to improve college completion rates for rural students.

That's how a new report, Jobs and Economic Security for Rural America, released Friday by the White House Rural Council, characterizes the state of rural schools.

Improving access to quality health care and education is one of five areas the report focuses on. The others are: creating jobs and promoting economic growth, fostering innovation, expanding outdoor opportunities, and supporting veterans and military families.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that the report underscores his administration's commitment to rural communities and highlights the programs intended to support economic growth. He and other members of the White House Rural Council plan to host a White House Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta, Iowa, on Tuesday as part of his three-day economic bus tour in the Midwest.

Obama created the Rural Council earlier this summer with a goal of improving economic prosperity in rural areas through job creation and economic development. Education is one of the 10 key factors targeted by the council.

There are only a handful of mentions of education in the report released Friday. It assesses the state of educational attainment in two paragraphs, noting that almost a quarter of American students live in rural communities, and the percentage of those children who go on to higher education has nearly doubled in the last 30 years.

Still, the college attendance rate is 10 to 15 percentage points higher for urban residents compared to rural ones, and the report says this administration plans to close that gap by increasing the availability of Pell Grants and making student loans more affordable.

The report goes on to describe the programs this administration has implemented affecting rural communities. Those related to education:

• More than 2,500 healthcare and educational facilities have received access to distance learning and telemedicine services through the federal Department of Agriculture's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program.

• The federal Department of Education invested nearly $3.5 billion in 2010 and $535 million in 2011 in Title I School Improvement Grants to help turnaround the nation's lowest performing schools, and 18 percent of the 2010 funds were awarded to schools in rural areas.

• The Rural Education Achievement Program has given $175 million annually to fund and support small and low-income rural schools.

• The Education Jobs Fund program provided $10 billion in assistance to states to save or create education jobs for the 2010-2011 school year. The report says "many" of these jobs are in rural areas.

• The 2011 federal Investing in Innovation competition made improving achievement and graduation rates in rural areas one of its key priority areas, and 39 percent of the first round of award recipients addressed rural students. Rural advocates have said many of the proposals funded weren't "authentically rural."

• The Appalachian Regional Commission has given approximately $11 million since 2009 to provide training to 13,000 workers.

• The federal Department of Veterans Affairs has given education benefits to more than 215,000 veteran students in rural areas and 3,600 veteran students in highly rural areas.

• The federal Department of Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grants program gives money to community colleges and other higher education institutions to expand and improve their ability to train workers for employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations.

Going forward, the report says the White House Rural Council and administration will take "immediate steps to create jobs and improve the economy in rural communities."

It seems that "rural America" is the buzz word for this administration this month. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a Web page dedicated to rural education, and federal officials promised to shine their spotlight on rural schools in August.

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