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Rural Arkansas Alliance Unites Isolated Voices

Problems sometimes can turn into opportunities.

That's certainly the truth for the Rural Community Alliance, a nonprofit that grew out of a 2003 statewide proposal to eliminate every Arkansas school district with less than 1,500 students.

The isolation of rural communities often prohibits them from having the political cache of larger, urban districts. But across rural Arkansas, educators and community members came together to launch a grassroots effort to fight the plan and ultimately save 175 small, rural schools.

Those involved realized they needed a permanent advocacy organization for rural schools, so they created the nonprofit Advocates for Community and Rural Education. For four years, the group helped rural Arkansas communities fight school consolidation threats and push for more funding and school choice for isolated districts.

In 2008, they launched a Rural Community Revitalization Initiative in recognition of the need for rural schools to have thriving rural communities, and the group's name changed to what it is now—the Rural Community Alliance.

The nonprofit has more than 1,200 members in 50 communities, and it works daily to unite the voices of rural schools and communities on statewide issues.

Just last month, the alliance learned of a proposed transportation bill that would've shifted more than $100,000 from poor, isolated districts to wealthier ones. The group helped stop the bill, according to an article by The Rural School and Community Trust.

The Rural School and Community Trust has been involved with the alliance since its inception, and it featured their efforts in its March issue of Rural Policy Matters.

It's an interesting state-based initiative for rural advocates to consider, and it seems like it could be a template for rural communities across the country.

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