Policy Brief

Rural Advocates Divided on ESEA Renewal Bill

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Rural education advocates are far from united on a bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Marty Strange, the policy director for the Rural School and Community Trust, criticized several parts of the measure approved by the Senate education committee to make over the country's main K-12 accountability law, now known as the No Child Left Behind Act. He said the bill would fail to:

• Change the Title I funding formula in a way to correct what advocates say are inequities that hurt rural districts.

• Ensure that competitive programs such as Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation, or i3, truly benefit rural schools in the way they award money.

• Come up with a way of dealing with the nation's lowest-performing schools that avoids leaving them with the stigma of failure. He said the proposed changes could make it more difficult for struggling districts to replace teachers and leaders.

But another group advocating for rural students has a different view of the rewrite, saying the changes embodied in the Senate bill would be a "landmark victory" for current and future generations of rural children.

"The bill, while not perfect, is definitely a step in the right direction and is pretty much unprecedented in its regard for rural education," said Jennifer Kaleba, the communications director for Save the Children. Her organization works to ensure children, including those in rural areas, have the resources they need, such as access to a high-quality education.

Save the Children likes aspects of the legislation that would:

• Set aside i3 funds for low-income rural schools—the same provision criticized by Mr. Strange for its fuzziness. The group contends that if this had been in place in 2009, more than $100 million would have gone to rural schools.

• Eliminate adequate yearly progress (to which Mr. Strange also said "good riddance").

• Let more schools qualify for Rural Education Achievement Program funds and give states more flexibility in how the grants are applied.

The legislation faces steep political hurdles, including what is shaping up to be a complex and contentious Senate floor debate yet to be scheduled.

Vol. 31, Issue 11, Page 21

Published in Print: November 9, 2011, as Advocates Divided on Rural Impact of ESEA Measure
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