Building Communities: A coalition of groups concerned about rural education is pointing local leaders to school construction money they might not otherwise know existed. The federal funds—mostly in the form of loans that can be had at better-than-market terms—are intended to simultaneously fix up schools and build stronger communities.
The coalition, Organizations Concerned about Rural Education, based in Washington, kicked off its new project last month with three workshops in North Dakota hosted by the North Dakota Farmers Union. That group invited local leaders such as school board members, other elected officials, and heads of business and religious groups to half-day sessions in three parts of the state.
"We wanted to create an awareness of what programs are available," said Ken Astrup, who is the director of cooperative and education services for the farmers' union and the coordinator of the workshops.
"The funds are available for individual schools," he added, "but we stressed that if you can get the community to work together, you can be more successful."
For example, Mr. Astrup said, a district might combine renovation of a school with creation of a new community technology center.
Two sources of federal help that the workshops highlighted are the Qualified Zone Academy Bond Program and the Community Facilities Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service.
Financing under the bond program allows districts to pay for school renovations using interest-free bonds. Bond purchasers make up the lost interest through federal tax credits.
Projects may qualify if they are in federally designated enterprise zones, or if at least 35 percent of the students they serve come from families with incomes at or near the federal poverty line.
Coming Together: Another effort with a specifically rural focus on linking schools and communities is expected to draw more than 500 high school students to Kearney, Neb., next month. For the fourth year, hundreds of students from small schools in the Great Plains states will convene for a "Youth Extravaganza" March 27 and 28. They'll share ideas about ways to help rural schools and communities sustain each other.
The event, this year called "Small Towns, Big Dreams," is organized and run by the students.
Vol. 19, Issue 22, Page 6