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Letter to the Senate HELP Committee on Rural High School Reform

July 22, 2010

Dear Senator:


The National Education Association, representing 3.2 million educators across the nation, would like to share with you the enclosed materials in advance of tomorrow’s field hearing in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on ESEA Reauthorization: Rural High School Reform. 

Nearly one-third of our nation’s public schools are located in rural areas, and more than 21 percent of our public school students attend these schools.  Over 40 percent of public school educators teach in rural community schools.  Rural school districts are often the largest single employer in their area and rural schools serve as the social, recreational, and cultural foundation of their communities.

While rural and small town schools have many of the same needs as other schools, they often face different challenges based on their unique characteristics.  Funding deficiencies, lack of programs targeted to students with special needs, difficulties in recruitment and retention of teachers, geographical isolation, and inadequate facilities are among the challenges facing rural schools.

Rural communities vary and no “one size fits all” policy will serve their needs.  Changes in local economies, such as existing and prospective business demand for new skills, have created a new need for partnerships among schools, businesses, community groups, and higher education institutions. 
The federal government must provide flexibility as well as support of and incentives for collaboration and innovation in rural communities. 

We are pleased that this week’s hearing will include a focus on career and technical education.  Career and technical education helps rural students see the relevance of their studies to future education and career aspirations that might reach beyond their rural communities, as well as to their local economy and job prospects closer to home.

Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP):
NEA supports the REAP Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2446/S. 1052).  REAP allows our nation’s poorest, smallest, and most geographically isolated rural schools to receive additional funding and flexibility in order to give them the tools required to undertake significant reform.

The REAP Reauthorization Act will allowing districts that are eligible for both programs the opportunity to participate in the Rural and Low Income School Program if they do not receive any financial benefit from the Small and Rural Schools Achievement Program.  It will also update the locale codes used to classify rural schools to be consistent with those developed by the Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics.  The bill will increase the minimum and maximum grants under the Small and Rural Schools Achievement Program to $25,000 and $80,000, respectively, when the appropriation for REAP reaches $200 million.  And, it will change the poverty measure from 20 percent of poverty as determined by the census to 40 percent free and reduced lunch.  This is a much more accurate measure of poverty within a rural school district.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention:
Professional isolation and chronically low salaries and benefits exacerbate the difficulty in recruiting and retaining quality teachers in rural and small town schools.  Rural and small town teachers are less likely to have access to professional development, special services, and opportunities for peer collaboration.  They are more likely to have to teach out of the field in which they are certified or to have to teach multiple subjects in one day.  Few accredited teacher education institutions prepare teachers to teach in rural areas.

Rural and small town school districts need increased resources to foster partnerships with teacher associations, businesses, and teacher education institutions to help with teacher recruitment and retention.  Also essential are funding for recruitment incentives and early training opportunities for rural teacher candidates, inclusion in teacher preparation curricula of special courses for teachers in rural schools, and resources to support ongoing professional development opportunities in rural areas. 

Other Legislation:
NEA also supports the following bills addressing specific needs of rural communities:

  • H.R. 1755 The Rural Early Education Access Act, which provides five-year state matching grants for rural preschool providers.  The bill includes requirements for at least one healthy meal and snack for children, as defined by the National School Lunch Program. 
  • H.R. 3078/S. 1281 The Investment in Rural After-School Programs Act, which provides support for improvements and development of rural after-school programs. 
  • H.R. 3180 The Strengthening Community Opportunities through Rural Education (SCORE) Act, which establishes a National Advisory Committee on rural education. 

Attached for your information and use are the following materials:

  • One-pager: Rural Schools, Educators, and Communities
  • Article from the Casper Journal highlighting an innovative vocational program at Natrona County High School in Wyoming that is making the transition from middle school or junior high to high school easier for students.
  • One-pager: Children of Poverty Deserve Great Teachers
  • Backgrounder: Ensuring Every Child a Quality Teacher
  • Backgrounder: Elevate the Profession to Attract Great Educators and Leaders for Every Public School
  • Backgrounder: Promote Innovation in Public Schools
  • Backgrounder: Turning Around Schools; Collaboration at Work

We thank you for your consideration of these important issues.

Sincerely,

Kim Anderson        
Director of Government Relations     

Mary Kusler
Manager of Federal Advocacy