Schools sit in disrepair, students lack books, and teachers need supplies throughout the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta region, an impoverished area in the South.
The region desperately needs qualified teachers, and those who do teach there experience cultural divides and hardships. Students who attend schools in poor, rural districts often feel forgotten, overlooked by politicians who tend to shift funding to urban or affluent areas.
“If we want urban communities to do well, we need to also pay attention to the rural communities,” Chris Masingill, federal co-chair of the Delta Regional Authority, told Take Part.
Two United States senators want to do just that. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas lead the charge to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law so rural school funding is increased.
“Every student deserves a quality education,” Pryor told TakePart. “Unfortunately, current educational policies are set up to favor urban and suburban school districts. Our students deserve better. That’s why I’m committed to correcting this inequity and reforming our educational policies to ensure that every Arkansas student has the resources and tools they need to succeed.”
But Pryor and Begich may have an uphill battle. That’s because their political colleagues who hail from places like Chicago and New York City will fight to keep funding in metropolitan areas and wealthy suburbs. The Rural School and Community Trust has launched the Formula Fairness Campaign to prepare for the fight on Capitol Hill.
The Rural School and Community Trust notes on its website: “The federal government provides funding to local school districts to combat the negative effect of poverty on student achievement. It provides $2,424 to the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) School District for each of the 33.6 percent of its students who are disadvantaged. It provides $1,246 to the Philadelphia (Mississippi) School District for each of the 41.3 percent of its students who are disadvantaged.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 12 million students attended rural schools in the United States in 2010 compared to about five million in urban schools.
Masingill said that half of the nation’s military come from rural areas. He added that rural areas also make a “significant” contribution to the U.S. economy. Because of that, resources should be invested in rural education.
“Rural America should have the same resources as its urban counterparts,” Masingill said. “Manufacturing is coming back and it’s coming to rural America. What that means is that we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to provide workforce training and educational opportunities. We need students to be just as trained and competitive as those coming out the urban areas.”
Some education watchers have criticized President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget, saying that it lists rural school funding as a concern but does little else. The budget states that rural schools “serve approximately 20 percent of the nation’s students” and “face unique challenges.” The budget does allocate millions for various projects, including $1.8 billion for a school and community collaboration, which gives rural schools more flexibility to design “a variety of projects based on their specific local needs.”
That’s needed, says Masingill, because rural schools must forget old models of educating and be open to 21st-century innovation with less money. He said cities, counties and even regions may have to share programs such as STEM education in order to get education needs met.
“We can do more with less,” he said. “We could make those dollars go further in the rural parts of the country than in the urban areas. But at the same time, we have to think of ways to do it better and be more innovative. We can’t expect all of these resources to come from the government.”