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Make Rural Schools A Priority, Think Tank Urges

Rural education advocates say federal laws don't always consider the needs of rural schools, and a new report offers four ways federal policies and a revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act could be improved to serve rural interests.

An August report from the Center for American Progress think tank, Make Rural Schools a Priority: Considerations for Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act details those recommendations and related proposed legislation.

The four areas are:
• Ensure rural schools and districts have a fair chance to receive and compete for federal education funds;
• Make school-based wraparound services available to rural students because of the special circumstances and often-limited capacity of rural schools;
• Ensure options are available to rural districts for the successful turnaround of low-performing schools; and
• Enhance supports for building the teacher and principal workforce for rural schools.

I'd be surprised if any rural schools advocate would oppose any of these recommendations, so the challenge would be rallying enough support to make them a reality.

The center's report says it's particularly important for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to address the needs of rural schools because it's the largest and most significant piece of federal law supporting public schools.

For making federal funding more fair, the report suggests streamlining the four Title I formulas into one, and it cites the proposed All Children are Equal Act, which would give more money to rural districts with high concentrations of low-income families.

For providing wraparound services to needy rural students, the report recommends increasing funding for the Full Service Community Schools Program and the Promise Neighborhoods program through a new, streamlined wraparound-services program.

It also suggests providing incentives for groups offering wraparound services through the School Improvement Grant program and 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

The report mentions two pieces of legislation, the Full Service Community Schools Act, and the Promise Neighborhoods Act, which would allow groups to implement a comprehensive continuum of supports and services.

The third area addressed is turning around low-performing schools. The report recommends giving money to states and districts that have comprehensive teacher recruitment and retention plans for high-needs schools, and it suggests giving schools flexibility in the models they use to improve. The report says turnaround money should be available for schools to use to provide wraparound services, and it says states also should encourage low-performing schools to share best practices and resources.

The report references a bill, School Turnaround and Rewards Act, which would give resources to states and districts that agree to turn around their lowest-performing schools.

Finally, the report discusses building rural schools' teacher and principal workforce by broadening the current Teacher Incentive Fund. The report's proposal would require states seeking a grant to serve high-needs geographic areas.

Also suggested were requiring states to ensure students have equitable access to good teachers and to monitor students' access to those teachers as a prerequisite for receiving federal Title II funds. And, rural schools and districts receiving School Improvement Grants would be mandated to build pipelines of effective teachers and principals.

The STAR Act referenced earlier would require states to explain how they would build those pipelines and give priority to those that have a comprehensive approach to building their teacher and principal workforce.

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