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Rural Leaders Raise Funding, Access Concerns to Improving School Security

Some rural school officials told federal leaders to keep their small school districts in mind when creating new grant application guidelines for school security funding.

This is an issue that often comes up when rural school advocates talk about competitive federal grants. They say their schools are at a disadvantage because they don't have the same grant-writing resources and expertise as bigger districts.

Their concerns came up during a recent conference call hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Rural Education Association to discuss school emergency management.

David Esquith, director of the federal office of safe and healthy students, told the more than 100 listeners to be looking in May for updated federal guidance on developing and revising comprehensive emergency-management plans.

He described basic components of what school and district plans should cover, though most of his comments weren't specific to rural schools. He said federal leaders understand that the resources available in rural areas may be different than other areas, but their goal is for the guidance to be applicable to all school systems, regardless of size.

When rural participants had the chance to ask questions, some wondered whether they would be able to successfully compete for some of the proposed federal money. Scott Turner, executive director of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association, said even a consortium of small rural schools isn't prepared to write an award-winning grant application, he said.

"And so any help that you can give with that for small rural schools, otherwise it's going to probably play out the same story that I see here in Indiana time and time again, and it's going to be the urban settings or the ... schools around the urban settings that seem to get awarded these grants," he said.

The department has made efforts to level the playing field in competitive grants, and those are continuing, said John White, the federal education department's deputy assistant secretary for rural outreach. Esquith said he appreciated Turner's and others' concerns and is keeping those in mind as the grant application process is designed.

Other rural participants asked about whether federal officials have any specific emergency-planning guidance for remote districts that are more than an hour from the closest first responder (they did not, although they said they recognize that is a challenge), as well as how they could get more and the latest information (federal officials suggested the department's technical assistance center with emergency-management planning).

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