In October, the Public School Forum of North Carolina announced the launch of Study Group XVII to examine the unique education challenges facing students across rural North Carolina. The effort will bring together subject matter experts from across the state to identify the unique barriers to success faced by rural students and to develop policy solutions to help rural schools overcome those barriers.
Addressing the unique needs of North Carolina’s rural schools is vital to ensuring that every child in North Carolina has access to the “sound basic education” promised by our state’s constitution. North Carolina has the second-largest rural student population in the country. Compared to their urban counterparts, North Carolina’s rural schools tend to serve more students from families with low incomes. Additionally, rural schools often find it more difficult to attract teachers and provide students with the academic and extracurricular options on offer in urban districts. Finally, many rural districts face declining enrollments, forcing many districts to consider school closures and consolidations that can rend communities.
North Carolina’s rural communities are hamstrung by an economic recovery that has been largely confined to urban areas. 42 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have lost jobs since December of 2007, many concentrated in rural, eastern North Carolina. An economic agenda focused on tax cuts for corporations and wealthy North Carolinians has exacerbated the opportunity gaps faced by rural children.
The Forum’s effort is also timely. A recent report from the Rural School and Community Trust measured the depth and breadth of each state’s rural education challenges and ranked North Carolina as the second-highest priority state behind only Mississippi. The report notes that North Carolina’s rural students are at or below the national median on college readiness indicators. Additionally, the report finds that one in five school-aged children in rural schools lives in poverty and per-pupil instructional spending is more than $1,000 below the national average. They ultimately conclude that North Carolina’s rural schools face “a dire situation that needs urgent attention at the state and community levels.”
The Study Group’s work continues on November 25th with two regional meetings at Edgecombe Community College and Isothermal Community College in Rutherford County from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. Both meetings are open to the public. Those who wish to attend are encouraged to RSVP here.