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Charter Schools: Beneficial Or Detrimental To Rural Areas?

It isn't easy to start a rural charter school, but it's an option some communities are embracing as a means of preserving sites that otherwise might be shuttered.

Indiana, for example, has one rural charter school—Rural Community Academy in Sullivan, Ind.—but it soon will be home to a second, Canaan Community Academy in Canaan, Ind.

Residents of this 99-person town lost their local school after the district decided to close it because of low enrollment. Later, they discovered a story by StateImpact, a collaboration of WFIU, Indiana Public Broadcasting stations and NPR, in which its reporters attempted to start a fake charter school, SimSchool, to show what that process involves.

From the story, Canaan residents learned about the Rural Community Academy, and they decided to turn their now-shuttered community school into a charter. Canaan Community Academy will open in August in the same building with donated furniture, computers and books, according to StateImpact.

Still, charter schools can be seen as a negative in rural communities when they become competitors instead of replacement options. When charter schools are launched alongside traditional schools, they often draw from the same student population, which decreases enrollment, and consequently the per pupil funding, of traditional schools.

The bottom line? "The charter school experiment appears dual-edged. For rural areas, the focus on school improvement might unify citizens. But poor economic conditions and conflicts might threaten these positive efforts," according to an ERIC Digest report on rural charter schools.

Nationally, the number of charter schools in rural areas is growing, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The number has increased from 207, or 13 percent, of all charter schools in 2000 to 652, or 15 percent, in 2008, according to statistics cited by the National Charter School Resource Center. But those schools are still scarce; those living in rural Indiana, for example, would have to travel more than 40 miles in many cases to get to the nearest charter school, according to StateImpact.

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