My passion is fighting for equal educational opportunities for our rural communities/schools/students. On this topic I will voice my opinion!
The current methods of funding rural schools are not fair or equal. They do not provide the school districts the support and resources they need to keep pace with today’s educational demands. The difference in funding can vary greatly from one rural school district to another. Idaho is not only last in funding for rural schools, it is also listed as the state with largest discrepancies in funding between rural schools.
For example, my kids attend school in Mackay, Idaho. Mackay, Idaho is a small rural farming/ranching community located deep in the Rocky Mountains. Mackay has a population of around 566. The school district has around 200 students. Mackay is located in Custer County. Custer County is the size of Connecticut and has a population around 4000. Custer County is 97% public forest land. The ability for Custer County to create economic growth is greatly hindered by their inability to develop their land. If you hop over to Sun Valley, which is on the edge of public forest land, you will see a night and day difference. Sun Valley has the ability to develop their surrounding land. It fact, they have developed it into world famous ski slopes and resorts. Their schools maybe the best funded in the state.
Current funding methods for Idaho rural schools fall short in four major areas:
- Funding per-pupil puts students in areas with a shrinking population at a disadvantage. Lower tax evaluations mean the school receives less funding per student, which could result in a difference of thousands of dollars per student. This leaves little for salaries, materials, and equipment.
- The current economic climate has meant cuts to education as schools try to make up the difference by passing costly school bonds. Rural schools with very small populations often do not have enough tax payers to pass a bond of significance.
- Rural schools located in counties with a large majority of public land often have few businesses for schools to draw tax revenue from – and federal and REAP contributions are not enough to make up the difference in loss of tax revenue from businesses.
- Large corporations typically choose not to invest in schools located outside of their funding area. Many rural schools have very few large corporations within a hundred miles.
I am not saying that money solves all problems. In fact some of the worst school districts in the county have some of the highest per-student funding ratios. The opposite is also true. Many, grossly underfunded rural schools have high proficiency scores, high graduation rates, and fewer overall "problems.”
What I am saying is that for many of America’s historically underfunded rural schools money/funding is the solution. Why? Because the problem is NOT the lack of passionate and committed teachers, low test scores, low graduation rates, or lack of support from parents. The problem is the inability to fund art/music and other “elective” programs, repair or replace crumbling unsafe schools and provide basic educational materials for their students.
As members of Mom Congress, Parenting Magazine has given us not only an opportunity, but also an obligation to work to ensure that kids’ in rural schools receive a fair and equitable education. All students, urban and rural, deserve the best and it’s imperative to address school funding needs on their behalf.
I am always up for suggestions as to how to better get the funding for our school. PLEASE pass on anything that may have worked for your school in the past. Also watch the slideshow below to better understand why Mackay Elementary and other small rural schools are unable to find funding!
Candice Larsen is the 2011 Mom Congress delegate from Idaho. She lives with her husband, an elementary school principal, and five children in a small rural community where she strives to bring financial aid and other resources to improve their struggling school.