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Should Feds Host Separate Competitions for Rural Schools?

Although the U.S. Department of Education has attempted to address disparities in competitive grant competitions for rural and small districts, one rural advocate says those efforts haven't worked and the time has come to create separate competitions for rural schools.

Andrew Hysell, associate vice president for policy and advocacy for Save the Children's U.S. Programs, recently wrote an opinion piece for the Huffington Post on how some federal competitions are resulting in few rural winners. Although it's not a new issue, he says it's significant considering the large number of at-risk, low-income youth who attend rural schools.

Hysell wrote that changes to level the playing field, such as giving rural districts priority points and creating rural-specific categories, haven't been successful, and that's because "small, rural districts lack tested, proven programs, have limited access to skilled workers, and cannot reach as many children as larger school districts."

He specifically discussed the federal Race to the Top district competition and his involvement with Roane County schools, a rural district in Spencer, W.V., that applied for but did not receive those funds.

Save the Children has developed a system, the Rural Empowerment Model, to help rural districts compete for and win public grants. Save the Children worked with Roane County to strengthen its application, and the 2,300-student district also received assistance from the Rural School and Community Trust, Apple, Inc., and Marshall University.

The district didn't win (nor was it named a finalist), and Hysell gave a number of reasons, such as it lacked funding to build the evidence necessary to compete with applicants who already were scaling proven models, and a lack of a pool of highly skilled teachers.

Although Save the Children has continued to help Roane, he questioned how rural districts can compete head-to-head with larger districts.

"Rural school districts should participate in separate competitions for innovation funding against their peers," he wrote. "Children deserve an equal chance to receive innovative approaches to their education regardless of their zip code."

What do you think? Do you agree with Hysell, or do you have other suggestions for leveling the playing field for rural schools seeking federal grants?

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