Large, low-performing, urban school districts make national headlines with their struggles and successes. But rural school districts, less frequently noticed or mentioned, also face significant challenges in helping students access resources that can give them tremendous opportunities.
As a still-shaky economy continues to worry education stakeholders, many districts are cutting costs to compensate for revenue loss and are ramping up efforts to secure education grants from companies, foundations, and the government—creating more competition for rural districts that desperately need more funding to help their students succeed.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicate that $86.7 million was awarded under the Small Rural School Achievement Program, which is a Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) initiative. REAP initiatives are designed to help rural districts that might lack the personnel and resources to compete effectively for federal competitive grants and that often receive education grant allocations in amounts that are too small to be effective in meeting their intended purposes.
NCES and the U.S. Census Bureau have defined three types of rural locales:
Fringe: Rural territory less than or equal to 5 miles from an urbanized area, as well as rural territory that is less than or equal to 2.5 miles from an urban cluster.
Distant: Rural territory that is more than 5 miles but less than or equal to 25 miles from an urbanized area, as well as rural territory that is more than 2.5 miles but less than or equal to 10 miles from an urban cluster.
Remote: Rural territory that is more than 25 miles from an urbanized area and is also more than 10 miles from an urban cluster.
With those definitions in mind and according to NCES data, during the 2007-08 school year there were 7,757 rural districts in the U.S.
As districts of all sizes are discovering, winning education grants can make a tremendous difference in providing student access to mobile devices, much-needed teacher professional development, or overdue technology upgrades.
But when it comes to securing grant money, how can rural school districts—in which administrators often do the work of several people—compete with larger districts that usually can afford to pay professional grant writers?