The U.S. Department of Education has reversed course and decided not to change how it distributes money to rural schools, following concerns publicized by several U.S. senators that hundreds of schools could lose out as a result of the change.
As we reported in mid-February, the Rural Education Achievement Program is at the center of the story. Previously, the Education Department had based its funding for this program on the share of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals. This year, the department instead decided to rely on U.S. Census Bureau data for families in poverty as the basis for REAP funding. But that switch ran counter to what some advocates wanted, and the change prompted a Feb. 14 letter to the department from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, telling the department that more than 100 schools in her state would lose out on $1.2 million.
A department spokeswoman said in response to that letter that it was reviewing Collins’ concerns
Collins and 20 other senators then increased the pressure on the Education Department in a March 4 letter, in which Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed “strong opposition” to the REAP funding switch. In the letter, they complained about the decision as well as the agency’s decision not to notify Congress and schools about its decision to use a new methodology.
That same day, according to a statement from Collins and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., the department announced it would no longer use the census-based methodology for distributing REAP funding.
“We are pleased that the Department listened to the bipartisan opposition to this misguided change,” Collins and Hassan said in their statement. “Had it not, more than 800 rural, low-income schools could have lost crucial funding and been forced to forgo essential activities and services, such as technology upgrades and expanded class offerings for reading, physical education, art, music, and distance learning.”