- A new report released last week by the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition highlights the challenges rural school districts face providing an equitable education to roughly one-third of students in the state, especially among an expanding Latino population working in agriculture. These challenges include high rates of poverty, opioid addiction, limited access to healthcare and technology, and a lower tax base to meet the needs of schools and students, Chalkbeat reports.
- The coalition recommended several changes designed to improve equity issues in rural schools, including revising the state's funding formula to a more student-based system that provides each school with a flat rate and then distributes extra funding based on students who are from low-income families, attend rural schools, have a disability, or who are learning English as a second language.
- Because of the growth of the immigrant population in Tennessee, which represented 12% of public school students in 2016, the coalition recommends more staffing and support for English-language learners in rural areas, including the placement of an instructional specialist in each regional office. Rural districts also need to provide students with more ways to earn college credit while in high school, as well as expanded pathways to institutions of higher learning after high school, the coalition suggested.
Rural schools face many of the same challenges as urban schools. Issues such as poverty, overdue maintenance, and the impact of teacher shortages, particularly in certain subject areas like STEM, affect both. But the unique factors for each often make the solutions vastly different.
But rural traditional public schools and charter schools also face unique challenges. Technology — which can provide a vital link for collaboration and expanded course offerings and professional development — is arguably of greater benefit to rural districts, yet these schools are less likely to have the infrastructure needed to support it. In some cases, their locations might be remote enough that service providers haven't even built out their own local infrastructure yet. Finding the necessary teachers and support for ESL and special needs students is also a greater challenge in most rural districts. And because of the lower tax base for most rural districts, these districts often have trouble maintaining buildings and offering competitive wages to attract and retain teachers.
Urban schools often receive more attention and funding from lawmakers while the needs of rural schools are more often overlooked. Education funding seems to remain in a perpetual triage situation as lawmakers direct funding to schools and districts where they think it will do the most good for the greatest number of students. In that scenario, urban districts usually win out. Grant funds often operate on the same principle, leaving rural districts in the cold in many instances.
Administrators may need to find more ways to collaborate with other districts in similar scenarios or to form consortiums that provide more negotiating power when it comes to accessing curriculum, technology and other resources needed to operate a district. These partnerships may also draw more attention to the needs of rural districts.