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NASBE Study Group Report Explores How State Policymakers Can Improve Opportunities for Rural Students

Alexandria, Va. - One-third of US public schools are in rural areas, and these schools enroll nearly 12 million students—nearly a quarter of all American students. According to census data, 26.7 percent of all rural public school students are minorities, and many of them are living below the national poverty line. A new NASBE report examines the unique challenges rural school districts face and offers policymakers solutions on how to address them.

“Educating Students in Rural America” explores the factors facing rural schools: cultural and virtual isolation, poverty and demographic shifts, lack of resources and assets, and staff recruitment and retention. Examining those issues, the authors of the report identified four key actions state policy can take to address them:

  1. Leverage capacity and professional training to translate technological access into high-quality learning.
  2. Help rural communities form partnerships with local organizations as part of broader economic and community development strategies and publicly recognize communities whose students are benefiting from such partnerships.
  3. Allow for increased flexibility by providing more funding, greater flexibility, and incentives for districts to build stronger connections between each other and with service providers to build capacity and save money.
  4. Proactively develop a comprehensive strategy to recruit, train, and retain the teachers, principals, and educational support staff needed to ensure all its students are provided an excellent education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) expands rural access to technology, allows rural schools to capitalize on partnerships and collaboration, facilitates greater flexibility in funding, and encourages development in educator capacity.  The report identifies states that have taken initiative ahead of the new opportunities ESSA offers, setting examples for other states and policymakers to follow. Utah has developed technology standards to ensure its technology investment is efficient, strategic, and effective. West Virginia has marshaled policymakers to coordinate investment in technology through its Project 24 initiative. Kentucky has established Work Ready Communities, a signal to employers on which regions have a highly educated workforce and are ready for economic investment. In partnership with state nonprofits, local colleges, and others, North Carolina is expanding rural access to early college high schools—schools that blend secondary and postsecondary education experiences. Students in these schools earn as many as 21 tuition-free college credits at local postsecondary institutions while attending high school.

“Students, parents, educators, and community member in rural areas all seek the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to succeed in college, careers, and civic life,” conclude the report’s authors. “Through considering and enacting strong, forward-thinking policies, this aspiration will become reality for significantly more students.”

To read the report, go to www.nasbe.org.

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