Utah Gov. Gary Herbert put rural schools in the spotlight last week during a four-day tour of the state’s rural communities, saying boosting education in those areas will require a combination of infrastructure improvement, investment in education, and market freedom.
The governor didn’t have a specific goal or plan for economic development in the places he visited Oct. 11-14, but he said he wanted to listen, according to news reports. An estimated 2.8 million people live in Utah, with 314,923 of them living in rural areas, according to statistics cited by the Rural Assistance Center. The poverty rate for rural Utah is 13.6 percent, which is higher than urban areas at 11.5 percent, and 15.6 percent of the rural population has not completed high school, also higher than the urban completion rate of 11.8 percent.
One of Herbert’s first stops was Grouse Creek School, one of the state’s 93 small schools in isolated, rural areas. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that schools such as Gouse Creek, which is 200 miles from Salt Lake City, receive extra funding because they lack economies of scale, and some lawmakers have been talking about whether funding for those small schools should be cut.
Grouse Creek is so small that only 80 people live in its surrounding hamlet, and many older students must live 140 miles away to finish high school. A school superintendent quoted in the story talked about the difficulty in attracting qualified teachers, a common challenge for rural schools.
An Associated Press story about the tour quoted Herbert as saying boosting education in its rural areas means infrastructure improvement, investment in education, and market freedom.
Herbert made headlines this past Wednesday, Oct. 12, by hosting a first-ever statewide broadcast to high school students about the importance of continuing their education, according to another story by the Salt Lake Tribune. Some Utah groups have set the goal of 66 percent of its adults holding post-secondary certificates or degrees by 2020, and Herbert told students they could make more money and be more competitive by having that education. Rural areas have lower post-secondary enrollment rates than the rest of the country.
Education came up again on his final day of the tour while visiting rural Beaver County. Herbert said two things were needed everywhere in Utah: education to develop labor skills for the challenges of a global economy and business diversification, according to a Salt Lake Tribune article.
We’ll try to keep you posted on what, if anything, comes out of the four-day tour. If nothing else, rural schools are receiving some attention, a critical first step.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.