< Back

Education Equity for Rural Communities

For decades longstanding educational equity has often been framed around race and ethnicity in urban settings. Yet, educators and legislators continue to focus on closing the opportunity gap for marginalized and disenfranchised students. Although rarely capturing the headlines, rural education is another area lacking educational equity.
When addressing student education equity, much of the focus has traditionally been on urban schools, partly to affect the most positive change for as many students as possible. However, while schools in urban and suburban settings may have larger student bodies, nearly one in five US public school students are enrolled in a “rural” school, totaling more than nine million students.

The Pandemic Laid Bare Many of the Inequities Plaguing Rural Schools

Equity is at the core of public education’s mission to ensure that all children have access to and receive a high-quality public education no matter where they reside.
Yet, all school districts didn’t have the same resources needed to accomplish that mission before the pandemic, which is not news to many people. However, COVID-19 has dramatically exposed the inequities and gaps often ignored and neglected for many children and school districts.

Challenges Facing Rural Schools

Rural schools encounter similar challenges found in urban schools and have unique challenges.

Like urban school districts, many rural school districts are faced with the challenges of poverty. In 2020, nearly 30 percent of children under 18 in rural America lived in poverty, while almost 18 percent of urban children under 18 lived in poverty.

Funding Disparities
Student enrollment drives public school funding, so the fewer students enrolled in a district, the less funding a school receives. Especially in states where there are significant numbers of urban districts, urban students receive more than their rural peers.

Transportation Issues
School transportation must cover long distances in rural areas because rural residents are more spread out, which increases the budget rural schools have to allocate transporting their students. And, unlike their urban and suburban counterparts, students attending rural schools don’t have other public transportation options.

Teacher Shortages
The pay scale at rural schools can be significantly lower and transportation issues also play a role in attracting and retaining teachers and administrators. For young teachers, it can be difficult to establish roots. Due to the shortage, many rural school teachers are sometimes required to teach additional subjects beyond their area of expertise.

The Digital Divide
Perhaps no other aspect of rural schools’ challenges became more apparent during the pandemic than the lack of infrastructure to connect to the internet. Problems with connectivity, costs and budget constraints prevented many rural schools from receiving adequate instruction during the pandemic.

A  Federal Communications Commission report showed that 41 percent of rural schools lack access to the internet. Without Internet access, rural students lose out on a vast number of electronic resources.

A Unique Opportunity for Rural Schools

The pandemic may have created setbacks. However, The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Fund (ARP ESSER) may be a silver lining for rural schools. The third Federal COVID-relief package and the largest ever one-time federal investment in K-12 education offers a total of nearly $122 billion to states and school districts, providing an opportunity for rural schools.

The rare infusion of money can enable rural schools to adopt and implement high-quality instructional materials. Adopting a high-quality core curriculum is a critical lever for promoting equity in learning. It should facilitate curricular coherence across and within grades, enabling equitable learning experiences in disrupted situations. Moreover, accelerating learning and preparing all students for college and careers cannot begin without access to high-quality, standards-aligned instructional materials.

How Can ARP ESSER Be Used?

At least 20 percent of the money must fund evidence-based interventions that address learning loss. In addition to addressing students’ social, emotional and academic needs, the interventions must address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups. The funds are also available to support professional development, a critical component for leadership in educational equity.

Two programs offered through the National Math and Science Initiative, Laying the Foundation and the College Readiness Program, address the academic needs and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. In addition, embedded training for teachers to address social-emotional needs is available.

While the funds are desperately needed, deciding how to appropriate this vital asset can be confusing. To assist you, NMSI has developed a guide and companion workbook. In addition, NMSI can work with schools to build the required evidence-based plans detailing how they will allocate the money.

Bringing STEM Education to Rural Schools

Location should not be a reason why students cannot access high-quality STEM education and NMSI is solving this issue starting in Alabama. In partnership with Alabama state officials, NMSI is launching the Alabama Rural Learning Accelerator, a program that delivers high-quality STEM education to rural school students by connecting qualified teachers in big cities with these students – without the need for anyone to relocate.

But the work doesn’t just stop there. NMSI aims to partner with state officials across the country to deliver high-quality STEM education to rural schools students. Learn more about our efforts here.