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Education Department Pledges 'An Equitable Share' for Rural Schools

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Acknowledging that changing conditions in the cities during the past few decades have dominated federal education policymaking, officials of the U.S. Education Department said last week that they have adopted a policy to ensure that rural-education programs receive "an equitable share" of ed funds, services, information, and assistance.

Robert M. Worthington, assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, told rural educators who convened for the 75th annual meeting of the Rural Education Association (rea) that the department will also work to ensure that rural and small-town children and adults receive "the basic educational tools necessary to enter an increasingly complex workforce."

Rural schools constitute 67 percent of all schools and enroll 33 percent of all schoolchildren, according to Mr. Worthington. He noted that rural schools have higher attrition rates and lower levels of academic achievement than their urban counterparts. Rural populations are growing--increasing from 53.6 million in 1970 to 59.5 million in 1980--although their tax bases are not, and rural areas commit greater percentages of their local resources to education than urban areas.

"Rural services cost more than comparable services in urban areas because of expensive transportation requirements in remote, sparsely populated areas; a scarcity of profes-sional resources; and a whole host of other factors," Mr. Worthington said in pledging more federal support for rural schools.

The meeting, held at the University of Kansas at Manhattan, attracted some 500 rural-school administrators and teachers from around the U.S.

Conferees gave Mr. Worthington a standing ovation after he finished reading a new rural-education policy statement written by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell. The statement, entitled "Rural Education and Rural Family Education Policy for the 80's," announced that, "to the extent that resources are available," ed will:

Assist educators and administrators interested in developing outreach and volunteer programs to improve the delivery of educational services to rural communities.

Develop an expanded data base on the condition of education in rural areas. The department "will provide the necessary technologies to disseminate information relevant to curriculum, organization, personnel, and support services needed for educational institutions serving rural communities." The types of data to be collected will include information about regional variations; surveys of rural curricula; test-score comparisons; calculations of districts' tax base per pupil; and characteristics of effective rural programs and institutions.

Monitor and reduce the complexity of education regulations, directives, eligibility and evaluation cri-teria, and administrative policies for rural districts.

Assist in identifying special programs available for handicapped individuals located in rural areas.

Provide personnel to compile available research on personnel shortages and additional needs for analysis by the Secretary's rural-education committee. "Research will focus on effective practices and characteristics of effective rural programs and projects," according to the policy statement.

Include rural institutions in demonstration and pilot projects, and involve representative rural communities in planning for the use of educational technology.

Provide consultation and technical assistance to rural districts. "To facilitate communications, the department will support initiatives such as an annual national forum, a monthly newsletter, and utilization of extension services and existing organizations for disseminating in-formation," the statement said. The department will also sponsor a national rural-education conference in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1984, Mr. Worthington announced.

Assist in improving the academic achievement of rural blacks, American Indians, and the children of migrant workers. The department will gather data on rates of graduation from high school and college (including secondary and postsecondary vocational institutions and programs), gains in functional literacy, changes in college enrollment, and achievement in adult education.

The data will help policy analysts develop a plan for more "judicious and efficient use" of available resources to help these students, according to Duane M. Nielsen, deputy director of the agency's division of innovation and development.

Assist in improving collaboration between the public and private sectors to raise the quality of instruction in the schools. The depart-ment intends to utilize "existing networks" to "coordinate activities at the local, regional, state, and federal levels," the statement said.

The networks in the best position to encourage partnerships between the private sector and schools are "local advisory committees for public schools, which always include representatives of business, industry, and agriculture," and existing vocational-education programs, according to Mr. Nielsen.

Assist individuals and families living in rural areas by extending home-economics and vocational-education programs administered by the department.

"If the services are already available in rural areas, the department will attempt to upgrade the quality and range of those services, according to Mr. Nielsen.

"The policy statement was prepared following an analysis of the department's programs addressing rural issues and problems and the resources available" to implement specific programs, according to Mr. Nielsen.

The department is analyzing ways to eliminate any "redundancy and inefficiency" in its rural-education programs to provide more direct services to rural districts without overlapping and unnecessary duplication.

The department is also approaching other federal agencies to determine their involvement in programs and regulations that could affect rural schools. The department will try to "codify and coordinate" all rural-education activities, Mr. Nielsen said.

Leaders of the association said that the new federal policy statement will provide greater recognition and visibility for rural schools. ''We realize that Secretary Bell cannot commit more dollars at this juncture, but we feel encouraged by the greater visibility we've been allowed," said Joseph T. Newlin, director of the department of rural education at Colorado State University and executive director of the rea

"Rural schools no longer have to come in the back door when policy is being formulated. We can be dealt with on an equal basis," he said.

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