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Are Charter Schools Needed in Rural Areas?

A new blog published this week by Matt Richmond, a Washington-based education policy researcher, has sparked a familiar debate about whether charter schools are needed, or appropriate, in rural areas.

In the blog, which was originally published on the Young Education Professionals (YEP) website, Richmond argues that "the theory behind charters is simply flawed when applied to rural school districts." He says this is because charter schools are supposed to serve as a competitive choice, but "rural districts will never have effective competition because there aren't enough children or resources."

Instead, Richmond argues that typical public schools can offer the same benefits of charter schools by using innovative staffing models, technology, and teachers from alternative preparation routes.

Richmond's post was picked up by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's education blog, Get Schooled, and Kylie Holley, the leader of a rural Georgia charter school, submitted a rebuttal. In the rebuttal, Holley argued that charter schools can provide an academically stronger school option, thus strengthening the future of rural communities.

According to the rebuttal, students at Holley's school, Pataula Charter Academy in southwest Georgia, have outperformed their peers across the state on recent state tests. Holley also argues that the school serves as an economic boost to the rural region by employing 25 teachers and a large support staff, and also by providing a "stronger academic public school option and a reason for folks to stay here."

Nationwide, about 16 percent of charter schools are in rural areas, and many face unique challenges, including fewer options for facilities, less access to support services, and opposition from the community over concerns that school districts will lose funds when students leave to attend charter schools. According to the National Alliance For Public Charter Schools, eight states, several of which are mostly rural, do not allow charter schools. 

What do you think? Are charter schools appropriate in rural areas? You can follow the debate and conversation on the Get Schooled blog, or weigh in here. 

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