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Is Rural America Losing its Voice? And What Does that Mean for its Schools?

There's been a lot of buzz lately about rural America and its relevance.

It started last month with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who while speaking at a forum sponsored by the Farm Journal, declared rural America is "becoming less and less relevant."

He pointed out this is the first time in years the U.S. doesn't have a farm bill. Why is that?

Vilsack said, "It isn't just the differences of policy. It's the fact that rural America, with a shrinking population, is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it."

Although Vilsack wasn't speaking about education, his overarching message has implications for all aspects of rural communities, including its schools.

Take funding, for instance. It's one of the biggest challenges rural schools face, and educators in every state rely on lawmakers to create formulas to distribute that money. And despite rural advocates' Formula Fairness Campaign to change the way federal Title I money is distributed, lawmakers voted down the proposal last year.

Vilsack's comments have prompted a flurry of editorials and stories, but he's not the only one, nor the first, to talk about this trend (although he arguably could be highest profile to do so).

Just last week, a report, "Finding the Voice of Rural Minnesota," from the Center for Rural Policy and Development in St. Peter, Minn., found that the state's rural areas have lost influence in policy decisions, and that differences between those areas and more urban ones are ignored in policy discussions.

"Rural Minnesota can't be on the sidelines when these decisions are made. If rural falls behind the rest of the state on measures of economic and cultural success, the whole state will suffer," said Brad Finstad, executive director of the center, in a news release.

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