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Questions Surround Future of Rural Ed. Pilot Project

It will be at least a month before the Rural School and Community Trust decides what will happen to the Center for Midwestern Initiatives, a pilot launched last year to promote place-based education, develop charitable assets to support rural education, and encourage talented young people to become teachers.

The intention was to have a year-long pilot, and that timeline ended in June, said Rob Mahaffey, the director of communications for the Rural Trust. Gary Funk, who had led the initiative, also has resigned.

The trust's board will have a long-term strategic-planning retreat at the end of October, and plans to discuss the effort, its accomplishments and challenges, Mahaffey said. In the meantime, the center's Web site still is online, and Rural Trust staff are responding to center-related e-mails.

Although it's unclear whether the Center for Midwestern Initiatives will function as it has this past year, Mahaffey said the Rural School and Community Trust will continue to support efforts with a regional focus. Some of its research has focused on the 10 percent of the poorest rural districts in the country. Most of those districts, dubbed the Rural 900, are contiguous and cross state lines, which means they follow varying laws and policies on issues such as teacher licensing and school accountability. That's one of the reasons a regional focus is critically important, Mahaffey said.

Mahaffey said the center worked to build partnerships with community foundations. Some of the issues that will have to be addressed going forward are identifying sources for long-term funding and increasing the use of the Web to build online communities.

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