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A Closer Look At Where Rural Diversity, Poverty Is Rising

We blogged earlier this week about a report, Why Rural Matters 2011-12, released Tuesday that showed striking increases in rural student enrollment, poverty, and diversity.

The statistics were so dramatic that it seemed worth a closer look at which states are seeing the most changes. Generally and overall, states in the South, Southwest, and Appalachia ranked highest on the report's rural education priority scale, and that's an indicator of the importance and challenging nature of rural education to the state's overall education system.

Boost in rural Hispanic student enrollment
The report looked at the rate at which Hispanic enrollment in rural districts has changed from 1999-2000 through 2008-09. Nationally, rural Hispanic enrollment increased by 150 percent, and it grew by more than 200 percent in each of the states ranking highest on the report's rural education priority scale. Only one state—Massachusetts—saw a decrease in its number of rural Hispanic students.

The states with the highest rates of rural Hispanic student enrollment increases mostly were in the Southeast and Appalachia. They include: West Virginia (578 percent), Mississippi (530 percent), South Carolina (447 percent), Illinois (437 percent), Alabama (397 percent), Kentucky (367 percent), Alaska (334 percent), Arizona (325 percent), Virginia (296 percent), North Carolina (293 percent), Arkansas (277 percent), Georgia (231 percent ), and Maryland (209 percent).

The states that had the smallest increases in rural Hispanic enrollment growth were mainly in Northern New England, the Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest. But even there, some states saw 26 to 80 percent growth over that time.

Media are picking up on this trend, and we reported recently on two stories showing Hispanic communities on the rise in rural areas and the difficulty in finding Hispanic educators, respectively.

Growth in rural students living in poverty
The report looked at the rate at which the level of student poverty in rural districts has changed from 1999-2000 through 2008-09. Poverty was measured by students' eligibility for federally subsidized meals. Nationally, the percentage of rural students living in poverty rose by 9.8 percentage points to 41 percent, and the poverty rate in rural school districts declined in only six states.

The poverty percentage point increases were biggest in the Southwest, South and Midwest. Those states included: Arizona (28.7 percentage points), New Mexico (24.0 percentage points), Louisiana (13.7 percentage points), Michigan (13.2 percentage points), Georgia (11.2 percentage points), Nevada (10.4 percentage points), Indiana (9.5 percentage points),Ohio (9 percentage points), Arkansas (8.9 percentage points), Alaska (8.9 percentage points), Missouri (8.3 percentage points), Maine (8.2 percentage points), and Oregon (7.8 percentage points).

The report noted poverty rates tend to be cyclical, so the comparison over 10 years aren't necessarily indicative of a continuous trend, except when the movement from start to end
dates is very large. The rates also indicate a deepening of rural poverty, particularly in the South and Southwest, according to the report.

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