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Rural Schools Grow in Enrollment, Diversity, Poverty

Enrollment in rural schools is growing faster than in any other geographic area, and its students also are becoming poorer and more racially diverse, according to a report released Tuesday.

Those are among the key findings of Why Rural Matters 2011-12, the latest in the biennial series of reports released by the Rural School and Community Trust.

[UPDATED (3:58 p.m.): The nonprofit rural education advocacy group has dedicated a portion of its Web site to the report, and it's posted here.]

The 11.4 million students in rural schools or rural districts make up 23 percent of the nation's public school enrollment, according to 2008-09 figures, the year used for the 105-page report. Rural districts saw a 22 percent increase in enrollment over a 10-year period, compared with a 1.7 percent increase in non-rural areas.

Among those attending schools in rural districts, two in five live in poverty, and one in four is a racial minority.

Rural advocates say the numbers should make rural education a higher priority at local, state and federal levels.

"All of these developments make it increasingly difficult for policymakers to ignore the challenges that rural schools and the students they serve present to state and national
goals of improving achievement and narrowing achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged groups," according to the report.

Why Rural Matters 2011-12 ranks each state on a "rural education priority" scale; the higher the ranking, the more important and challenging rural education is to a state's overall education system. The report says the scale provides information on states' rural priority needs and highlights ways those can be addressed.

The 13 highest-priority states are all in the South, Southwest, and Appalachia, except Alaska (listed in order): Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alaska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Those states changed little from the 2009 report, and those regional areas have the clearest need for policymaker attention to rural education, according to the report.

The report is jam-packed with state-by-state information on rural student enrollment, diversity, and achievement. Here's a sample of some of the national statistics provided:

• Rural high school graduation rate: 77.5 percent
• Percent change in rural Hispanic enrollment: 150.9 percent increase from 1993-94 to 2008-09
• Percent change in rural students in poverty: 9.8 percent increase from 1993-94 to
2008-09
• Percent rural student poverty: 41.0 percent
• Ratio of instructional to transportation expenditures: $11.06.

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