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Rural Student Success Critical to National Goals

As the percentage of rural schools continues to grow, one rural advocate contends their success is critical to the country moving forward and meeting its overall goals.

Marty Strange, the policy director for the Rural School and Community Trust, had a commentary piece in an August issue of Education Week called, "Rural Student Success Critical to National Goals." In it, Strange points out that if the country's high-poverty rural school districts were to be considered as one, it would be the largest, among the poorest, and most diverse district in the country.

The country can't afford to neglect its rural schools, Strange writes, and he offers four key ways he believes federal policy needs to be changed to ensure rural America can prosper. We've written before about his first two recommendations, but less so about his final two.

Not surprisingly, first on his list was changing the Title I distribution formula, which often results in larger districts and big urban areas receiving more federal money than higher-poverty poor, rural districts and small cities. The Formula Fairness Campaign is a group of organizations that want to see the formula changed, and Strange said the All Children Are Equal Act would do that.

Second on his list was doing more to support rural education research and policymaking, such as the one proposed by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

"The circumstances in rural schools are profoundly different from the circumstances in urban and suburban schools and deserve explicit policy and research consideration. But there is no process within the U.S. Department of Education for considering the impact of proposed or existing education policies on rural students," Strange writes.

Third, Strange said the federal government needs to ensure rural schools are competing on a level playing field, particularly when it comes to competitive grants. Rural school districts vary in their capacity to compete, and they often lack the scale required in competitive grant guidelines.

The U.S. Department of Education should provide technical assistance in grant writing and organizational capacity-building, he said.

Finally, he said the Title I "comparability" requirement should be toughened. This one was a little more complicated to understand, but he pointed to the Fiscal Fairness Act, which he said would prevent some of the abuses in the distribution of the money. He said the legislation would "mandate reporting actual salaries in each school and narrow the allowable spending disparity between high- and low-poverty schools from 10 percent to 3 percent."

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