Rural schools now have a stronger coalition of voices in the Senate.
Led by Sen. Michael R. Enzi, R-Wyo., 16 senators so far have joined to establish the Rural Education Caucus, including nine Republicans and seven Democrats.
"He was concerned that federal education legislation is often geared toward larger school districts," spokeswoman Kim Sears said of Mr. Enzi's role in forming the group.
The group of senators "will sponsor briefings, facilitate communication between the Department of Education and other organizations, ... and attempt to advance a legislative agenda that benefits rural communities, educators, and students," Mr. Enzi wrote in a letter inviting fellow senators to join.
The group hopes to land more federal education funding this year for rural schools—or, at the very least, sustain the fiscal 2002 funding—especially with the steep requirements of the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 beginning to take effect.
Rural education leaders see formation of the caucus, similar to the House Rural Caucus except for its focus on education, as a demonstration that their interests should be a vital part of the Capitol Hill mix.
"It's a great showing of the prominence that rural education has [found] in the minds of senators," said Mary Kusler, the legislative specialist on rural schools for the American Association of School Administrators and the National Rural Education Association.
Sen. Enzi and a bipartisan coalition of caucus co- chairs—Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Kent Conrad of North Dakota—could help preserve rural school funding this year.
The group's main interest is the Rural Education Achievement Program, which in fiscal 2002 provided about $163 million in new federal aid for rural schools. President Bush's proposed fiscal 2003 budget— released almost a year ago, but still on the table as Congress struggles to craft its tardy spending legislation—would cut that funding.
Even at the 2002 level, rural school districts on average received just $40,000 in extra federal funding under the rural program. That may not be enough to help many districts comply with all parts of the No Child Left Behind Act's requirements, rural educators say.
Vol. 22, Issue 21, Page 22