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Rural Ed. Advocates Concerned About President's Proposed REAP Funding

The National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition says it's deeply troubled by the administration's proposal to not increase funding for the sole federal program dedicated to rural schools in 2015-16, but federal officials say their position on that fund is consistent with the past.

The Rural Education Achievement Program funds initiatives in rural districts lacking the personnel and resources to effectively compete for competitive federal grants. Those include the Small, Rural School Grant program, the Alternative Uses of Funds Authority, and the Rural and Low-Income School program.

The president's proposed budget maintains funding for the program at $169.8 million, which is level funding from the previous two budget years and roughly equivalent to 2004 funding levels, according to the AASA, the School Superintendents Association. AASA and NREAC advocate a funding level in REAP of $250 million.

The rural education coalition views the lack of an increase as a "failure to support the nation's rural schools," said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director of policy and advocacy for the AASA. The National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition is a combined effort of the National Rural Education Association, the AASA, and state rural education organizations.

REAP was one of few programs that had none of its sequester cuts restored, meaning that rural schools are receiving REAP funding that predates the existence of the program, Pudelski said. 

"Level funding of REAP at the same time that the administration prioritizes competitive grants is a triple setback for rural communities, who find themselves with decreased REAP funding, with Title I funding that is still not restored to pre-sequester levels and are less likely to have the capacity to successfully navigate the competitive program application and implementation process," she said.

Dennis Bega, a director of regional operations for communications and outreach for the U.S. Department of Education, said REAP was one of more than two dozen Education Department programs that the president's budget proposed to fund at the same level as the previous two budget years. The proposed funding for the upcoming year is consistent with REAP funding during the past decade, as well as the administration's emphasis on dedicating scarce new resources to innovative reform programs, including competitive grants, he said.

"At the same time, we continue to work hard to ensure that rural schools and communities are able to compete successfully for ED reform dollars, primarily by adding priorities in many new grant competitions for applicants proposing to serve rural areas," he said. "For example ... the most recently completed Race to the Top District competition included absolute priorities for rural districts that resulted in two awards to consortia serving 22 rural school districts."

To read more about the president's proposed budget, check out my colleagues' post on the Politics K-12 blog.

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