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Blogger: South Needs to Address Problem of Education for Poor, Rural Children

Of the 111 counties across the country where more than 50 percent of children live in poverty, 78 are in the South.

That's one of the statistics blogger and Teach for America manager Travis Starkey used in a recent blog post to make a point about the need for a coherent, regional effort to address the problem.

"Those counties are exclusively rural. Not a single one is within 45 minutes of a major metro area," he wrote. "There is no hospital with an excellent emergency room. There is no magnet school to apply to. In many places, there's not even a grocery store. It may sound insane, but that's the inescapable reality for tens of thousands of children."

Starkey has a blog, which typically receives about 50 hits per entry, but this post seems to have struck a chord, garnering more than 1,500 views. He wrote that major gifts and attention are focused on urban districts, but the same is typically not true for rural schools. And that means a poor child growing up in an urban district has a better shot of attending a good school in comparison to their rural counterpart. He argues the greatest need for great schools is in the "small town South."

It's worth noting that there are significant efforts to help rural schools, such as the AFT-led Reconnecting McDowell partnership in West Virginia or the Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools. Starkey said he'd been looking for groups focused on rural education issues but had trouble finding them, with the exception of the Rural School and Community Trust.

Starkey told the Rural Education blog that he knows many people who are either from the South or who have worked in the South and want to come back to lead schools and nonprofits, practice law, or run health clinics. He said it's easier to convince them to come back if they see themselves as part of a larger regional group working to improve systemic, regional issues.

Starkey said he's in the early stages of developing what will ultimately be a "rural school redesign outfit or a social entrepreneurship incubator." And as a result of the blog post, Starkey has started a Facebook page, which he described as a "community of people devoted to driving and supporting change in the small town South."

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