Rural education legislation is stuck. Since this spring, I’ve been monitoring legislation in the US House and Senate that could have an impact on rural education. It’s not been a difficult task because nothing much has happened.
Sure, over the course of the 113th Congress, legislators from rural and non-rural states alike have proposed legislation that could have an impact on the nearly ten million students that attend school in rural America. Now, however, that’s all just gathering dust in committee.
But why should you care about rural education? What does it matter that Congress has failed to act on these bills when they haven’t reauthorized ESEA in over ten years? Here are a couple of things that might convince you that rural education matters: Rural students may be more likely to graduate from high school than their urban peers but they are less likely to go on to college. Moreover, over half of the school districts, a third of the schools, and a quarter of the students in the US are in rural areas.
The bills that would help these students are fairly straightforward in their goals and most have bipartisan support – many are general education bills that would also help urban students. They include a proposal to create an Office of Rural Education within the US Department of Education and a renewal of the recently-expired Payment in Lieu of Taxes Program, which provides funding to school districts that do not receive property taxes because of their proximity to federal lands. Another rural-specific bill would reauthorize the Rural Education Achievement Act, which helps provide funding for rural schools in isolated and low-income communities. General education bills that would provide targeted assistance to rural students include the “Strengthening Education through Research Act,” which funds projects such as national research and Regional Education Laboratories.
Though I’ve tracked over 15 pieces of legislation that could benefit rural students over the spring and summer, none are on their way to the President’s desk. There are numerous opportunities to improve the condition of rural education within both rural-specific and general education legislation. But so far, Congress has failed to act, keeping rural schools – and rural kids – on the back burner.