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Rural Education and the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP): Overview and Policy Issues

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Abstract:

Advocates for rural local educational agencies (LEAs) maintain that these school districts have many advantages -- for example, that rural schools are more likely to be closely connected to the community, parents, and students than is the case in larger, urban and suburban LEAs. At the same time, rural schools face a variety of challenges, both in general (such as lack of access to cultural and educational resources) and more specifically regarding current federal requirements related to the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLBA, (such as special problems meeting the requirement for "highly qualified" teachers under NCLBA).

There are many ways to define a rural school. The definition of a rural school can be based on location (e.g., distance from metropolitan areas), by size, or by population density. Targeting can also be based on how poor a rural school district is. Depending on the definition used, the number of rural LEAs can vary from 11% to more than 60% of all LEAs, and can be said to serve as few as 2% of all public school students to as many as one-quarter of all students.

Rural school districts differ in important ways from their urban and suburban counterparts. Rural districts tend to have fewer minority students: while large and mid-size cities often have majority minority student populations, rural school districts tend to be predominantly white. Rural districts tend to have smaller schools. For example, high schools in rural areas have an average enrollment of about 200 students, while urban and suburban high schools average between 800 and 1,200 students. Similarly, rural schools have fewer teachers (for example, 20 teachers for the average rural high school and nearly 60 teachers for the average urban high school). Finally, rural districts are less likely to have special schools and programs. For example, nearly 10% of urban schools are charter schools, while less than 2% of rural schools are charters.

One way that Congress has aimed to aid rural schools is through the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), which provides funds to small, rural LEAs (an enrollment of less than 600) and relatively poor rural LEAs (a child poverty rate of at least 20%). Approximately 4,000 LEAs receive funds under the Small, Rural Schools Achievement program (SRSA), and an additional 1,200 LEAs receive Rural Low-Income School (RLIS) grants.

The REAP program is part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which the 110th Congress is expected to consider for reauthorization. One possible policy question involves a potential change in how rural LEAs are identified under the program. The statute specifies the use of locale codes to determine which LEAs are located in rural areas. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has proposed changes to the determination of locale codes. If adopted, the new locale code system could eliminate some LEAs from eligibility for REAP funds (perhaps as many as 400 from the SRSA program) and add newly eligible LEAs (perhaps 35).

This report will not be updated.