Rural schools and districts provide a distinct challenge for policy makers due to their geographic and economic diversity, as some communities may be flourishing while others consistently fail to provide adequate education for students. Despite the greater focus on rural America by politicians and the media and alike, our nation’s rural students are often forgotten in conversations around our most vulnerable students.
This week, we were excited to welcome Alan Richard from the Rural School and Community Trust to share the findings from the recent update to their Why Rural Matters report. This in-depth, 50 state report utilizes federal data sources from the 2016-17 school year to draw attention to the needs of our nation’s rural student population and establish priority rankings to reflect the overall status of rural education in each state.
One reason that researchers and policymakers find it difficult to talk about rural is because it can challenging to define exactly what rural means. For the purposes of the Why Rural Mattersreport, rural is defined by S. Census Data definitions of rural.
In 2016-17, nearly 7.5 million public school students in the Unites states were enrolled in a rural school district, and approximately 9.3 million attended a rural school—constituting more students than the nation’s 85 largest school districts combined.Of these rural students, roughly one in six were living below the poverty line.
Rural schools make up a significant proportion of our nation’s schools. In 12 states, rural schools make up at least half of all public schoolsand they constitute a third of total schools in 14 others. Approximately half of rural students in the U.S. live in 10 states,with Texas having the most rural students (694,000).
Rural school districts are often quite small. The national median enrollment for rural districts is 494 students, and in 23 states, half of rural districts enroll fewer than that.
The report utilizes state level data to outline performance on twenty-five different measures, organized into five “gauges”: Importance, Diversity, Achievement/Outcomes, Policy, and College/Career Readiness. Using these indicators, Rural Trust has established priority rankings based on which state’s rural students have the highest need for support. The five highest priority states are Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.
In most states rural students scored higher on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) than their rural counterparts. However, in some state, rural achievement lags behind that of non-rural districts, and fewer rural students pass AP courses than urban and suburban students overall.
In many states, rural districts receive a larger proportion of state funding due to higher operating costs for smaller or more remote schools. The average per pupil spending for rural students in the U.S. is $6,400 but can range from $14,400 in Alaska to $4,118 in Idaho.
For our full conversation with Alan, please watch the webinar below.
We hope to see you at the Intersection for our next webinar on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 1 p.m. ET.