- Students attending rural schools have less access to school psychologists and counselors than their nonrural peers. They also may face other educational, mental and physical well-being barriers impacting rural areas, according to research from the National Rural Education Association.
- The report, which is the latest in a series of research on rural students, also highlights areas of progress, including increased diversity of rural students and a slightly higher graduation rate than their nonrural peers.
- Rural schools and students "often seem invisible" because lawmakers may not fully understand the challenges they encounter, despite there being 9.5 million students attending public schools in rural areas, the report said.
The association said in a statement that in the COVID-19 pandemic’s wake, many rural communities are facing multiple crises in educational loss, economic outcomes, unemployment, and mental health. The research, which has been ongoing for the past 20 years, can help lawmakers and advocates better understand the needs of this student population, the report said.
The report shares the following statistics about the barriers for rural schools and students:
- Access to counselors. Rural school districts averaged a student-counselor or psychologist ratio of 310:1, compared to a 295:1 ratio in nonrural districts.
- Access to gifted and talented programs. Of the 24,736 public rural schools in the U.S., 10,071, or 40.7%, seemingly did not offer any program specific to gifted students.
- Diversity in gifted and talented programs. Although 17.1% of students in rural schools identified as Hispanic, only 9.1% participated in gifted programs. Black students saw similar underrepresentation issues. Even though Black students accounted for 10.6% of rural schools' enrollment, only 5.2% participated in gifted programs.
- Basic internet access. About 13% of rural households lack minimum broadband connection for streaming educational videos or virtual classrooms. In six states — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and West Virginia — more than one in six rural households lacks a basic broadband connection.
Additionally, the research found disproportionate state funding levels for rural schools.
Generally, states with higher populations of rural students provided a larger proportion of funding to these schools. However, when looking on a state-by-state basis, funding was more uneven.
For example, New York allocated 22% of state education funding to support rural school districts serving only 11.6% of the state’s public school students. Conversely in Nebraska, 23.6% of students attended schools in rural districts, but those districts received just 17.8% of state funds.
AASA, The School Superintendents Association, recently surveyed more than 350 district leaders from 33 states who participate in the Rural Education Achievement Program, a federal program that provides financial support to rural schools and districts. This year, REAP funding is at $215 million.
The survey found that more than half (56%) of those polled allocated REAP funding for purchasing technology, devices and software. Other common areas for using REAP money included professional development for teachers and staff, as well as higher compensation for staff and expanded curricular offerings.
Areas less likely for REAP spending included school libraries, support for English learners/migrant students, and activities meant to increase access to high-quality advanced coursework.
The data used for the National Rural Education Association report came from the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Census Bureau.