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Senators Make Rural Plea For Race To The Top

Rural school districts shouldn't be put at a disadvantage in the new 2012 Race to the Top competition for districts, according to a letter sent today from U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., and 16 others to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Those who signed on to the letter say rural districts are good candidates for the money because they've proven they can stretch their resources. But they acknowledge rural schools struggle with "constrained fiscal and community resources, struggling local economies, and increasing rates of poverty and students with disabilities" and may not be able to compete against bigger districts.

To help rural districts, the letter makes three specific requests. Those include:

• Having the U.S. Department of Education provide ample technical assistance to help rural districts compete for the funds;
• Allowing two or more districts to apply together in consortia and letting educational service agencies to apply as fiscal agents in conjunction with interested local districts;
• Releasing the Notice of Funding Availability as soon as possible so rural districts with less grant-writing capacity have time to develop quality applications.

Rural school advocates were critical of another federal program, Investing In Innovation, that required them to vie for funding. They said their schools were disadvantaged in the competition by not having the same resources as larger districts. Federal officials changed the guidelines to add a rural priority area, and it led to five rural groups being among the highest-rated applicants in the latest round of competition.

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