The funding debate is never far from the forefront in education reform circles. We devote a lot of time and energy bemoaning the lack of funding for schools, especially for inner-city schools. You know the story by now: Due to suburban sprawl, district to district shifts, white flight and even middle-class minority flight, urban school districts are left without the tax base and resources to adequately maintain their current standard of education and opportunity for students. This, of course, leads to poor test scores and cutting of extracurriculars which leads to even more students leaving.
This problem is not just an inner-city problem. Increasingly, rural areas reporting having the same issues, for the same reasons.
A new peer-reviewed study attempts to explain the obstacles and problems that rural students are facing in Wisconsin. The study found that rural and small-town students may actually perform worse than urban students when you control all the other variables:
Rural and small-town schools perform worse than urban schools. When schools are divided by level of urbanicity, rural schools have significantly lower performance on the Forward Exam in both math and reading than urban schools. All school sectors have lower levels of proficiency than suburban schools.
The funding situation is no better in rural areas either. Just like in urban districts, many rural districts are feeling the financial fallout from shrinking enrollment. Sullivan County Northeast School Corp Superintendent Mark Baker spoke at a rally in Farmersburg, Indiana on Saturday, hoping to shed light on the funding crisis facing his district:
Fifty years ago, in the year 1967, Northeast School Corp. had over 2,300 students in eight school buildings," said Baker. "In 2007, we had approximately 1,400 students. Today, we have 853 students in four buildings…With the loss of students comes the loss of revenue. Each student that moves away or attends a school outside our corporation is a loss of approximately $6,000. In the last eight years, the Northeast School Corp. has lost over $4.1 million in revenue.
Baker went on to talk about how state lawmakers need to look past the issues in inner-city Indianapolis and deal with what is going on in rural areas. The irony is that Indianapolis Public Schools recently decided to close several facilities in an effort to consolidate students and save money, not too unlike what Superintendent Baker just described in his own district.
Although rural and urban education advocates tend to see funding as a zero sum game and view their interests as diametrically opposed, rural and urban school districts are fighting the same battle. The research is clear: Students are making a beeline for affluent suburbs and taking their tax dollars with them, leaving rural and urban districts to cope and adjust with the loss.