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Rural Districts Poised to Lose Under NCLB Rewrite, Report Says

Rural school districts could lose a disproportionate amount of funding and opportunities to innovate under a bill proposed by House Republicans, according to a report by the Obama administration.

In my latest piece for The Hechinger Report, I look at the report's numbers for rural districts, many of which will lose higher percentages of their Title I funding than urban or suburban districts. Nationwide, nearly 50 percent of school districts are small and rural, and 20 percent of students in the country attend those schools. Rural schools are also serving an increasing number of low-income and minority students.

In Mississippi, where more than 56 percent of students attend rural schools, Title I funding could be cut by $7 million, according to the report, with the largest cuts taking place in five high-poverty Mississippi Delta districts. The Delta's Coahoma County school district, for instance, would see a 50 percent reduction of its Title I funding. In Alaska, the rural Iditarod Area school district would see a nearly 63 percent decrease in funding. Hatch Valley Municipal Schools in New Mexico is estimated to see a nearly 44 percent decrease.

At a breakfast with reporters Monday morning, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan further detailed his concerns with the bill, which would rewrite No Child Left Behind, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Duncan and the White House have been vocal opponents of the proposed bill, which faces a House vote on Friday.

One of Duncan's major arguments against the rewrite is the proposed amount of spending, which the White House report referred to as "effectively locking in sequestration-era cuts for the rest of the decade." The bill would cap spending on ESEA at $800 million lower than 2012 and would allocate $7 billion less in Title I funds over six years than President Obama's budget.

"If you look at the numbers it's a pretty devastating portrait of what this thing might do," Duncan said.

The report mostly focused on large, urban districts like the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Chicago public school district, which could lose more than $80 million and $64 million respectively, or about 24 percent of their 2014 estimated Title I allocations. New data related to the White House report were released Tuesday and found that many of these large school districts poised to lose funding serve largely black or Hispanic populations.

Supporters of the bill say the rewrite is needed to curtail the federal government's role in education. The bill repeals certain aspects of ESEA, such as requirements for how much states and school districts must spend before receiving federal funding, and eliminating more than 65 federal education programs. "Continuing to leave students, states, and school districts tied to a failing law is unacceptable," said Rep. Todd Rokita, a Republican from Indiana, in a statement earlier this month. "This bill is designed to restore educational control to its proper place and reduce the federal government's intrusion into our classrooms."

At Monday's breakfast, Duncan said that rural districts will lose out due to these eliminations. He added that the bill lacks a commitment to programs that encourage innovation, like the Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant. "A lot of what we've done on the innovation piece has been in rural communities," Duncan said. Because of the small size of many rural districts, launching innovative programs such as early-college initiatives in rural North Carolina or efforts to expand access to Advanced Placement courses in rural Tennessee is "impossible," he added. "Those are the kinds of things that would be taken away from rural districts that are trying to challenge the status quo and get better."

For more on the NCLB rewrite, check out the Politics K-12 blog here.

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