Twenty-two Democratic senators are telling U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that he should make sure rural schools get a fair shot at the roughly $3 billion in new competitive-grant money the Education Department is seeking in the president’s fiscal 2011 budget request.
The senators hail from largely rural states, many of which are considered “red” or swing states in presidential elections, including Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
“It is clear that rural and frontier schools face unique circumstances compared to their urban-centered peers,” the senators write in the letter, dated Feb. 26.
The senators voice concern that some of the department’s policy prescriptions, such as charter schools and extended-day programs, aren’t likely to be effective in remote areas. They urge the department to check out options such as distance learning that they believe have a better shot of having an impact in rural communities.
Rural districts have often expressed concerns about the Education Department’s push to award more funding through competitions, rather than by set formulas. They say that rural schools just don’t have as much capacity as urban and suburban districts to go after competitive grants.
Department officials say they’re aware of rural concerns and want to work better with rural districts.
“Arne continues to seek the advice of rural school superintendents, principals, teachers, and students in order to create a balanced national education plan,” John White, a spokesman for the Education Department, said in an e-mail.
He also said the department would look for ways to help rural districts compete for funds. For instance, the proposed rules for the $650 million Investing in Innovation grant program, which is intended to reward districts for making progress on student achievement and scale up promising practices at the district level, includes a special priority for rural schools.
A version of this article appeared in the March 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Senators Highlight Rural-State Issues