ERIC Identifier: ED308059
Publication Date: 1988-12-00
Author: Howley, Craig
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Economic Support for Education in Rural School Districts. ERIC
This Digest synthesizes recent findings and enduring features that
characterize the economic climate in which rural schools operate, and it reports
traditional strategies used to create greater economic support for rural school
districts. It aims to relate the issues of rural culture and community to the
economic support of adequate services in rural schools.
WHY HAS THE DEGREE OF ECONOMIC SUPPORT BEEN AN ONGOING CONCERN
OF RURAL EDUCATORS AND OF STATE POLICYMAKERS?
The yardstick of adequacy in mass
education--the expectation that all the children of all the citizens of a nation
will attend school--is the expectation that schools everywhere will function in
the same way to serve all students. This is a modern phenomenon closely
associated with the steady economic growth that has characterized the
development of cities, but many rural areas have not experienced growth during
recent decades. Instead, they have been caught in cycles of economic boom and
bust, or in a trend of steady decline. Under these circumstances, rural
superintendents have consistently reported that adequate financial support for
their districts is difficult to obtain.
Nonetheless, rural areas are the places in which mass education developed its
early roots in the United States during the nineteenth century. Studies of
contemporary nonmetropolitan communities have shown that they spend at least as
high a proportion of their personal income on schools as metropolitan
communities (e.g., Monk & Bliss, 1982). Incomes in rural areas, however, are
low, and the net result of this traditional interest and contemporary effort
does not combine to support adequately the work now expected of rural schools.
WHAT STATE AID PROVISIONS HAVE BEEN SUGGESTED TO INCREASE THE
DEGREE OF ECONOMIC SUPPORT FOR RURAL SCHOOLS?
Three types of state funding
mechanisms are used to equalize economic support among all school districts in a
state (Jess, 1980):
-- high-level foundation programs, by which the state makes up the
difference between local support and a prescribed minimum level;
-- augmented foundation programs, which provide additional revenues
based on a combination of district wealth and tax effort; and
-- power equalization programs, which guarantee minimum revenues
based on tax effort, but "recapture" revenues from districts
with high local revenues.
According to Jess (1980), of the 25 states using any of these methods,
disparities were reduced in 17, whereas disparities increased in seven. (They
remained unchanged in one.) However, disparities were most consistently reduced
in states that adopted power equalization programs. According to data reported
by Wright (1981), 13 states adjusted funding to rural schools based on isolation
and seven states made adjustments based on population sparsity.
WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS' REVENUE CONTRIBUTIONS ON RURAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS?
Since the 1930s, state
governments have played an increasingly large role in financing local schools.
Since the 1950s, steady changes in state funding formulas have tried to take
into account the special needs of some districts--for example, being small in
size or serving many disadvantaged children. Overall, the effect of state
efforts has been to lessen the fiscal discrepancies between rich and poor school
The funds provided by the federal government to help at-risk students also
help lessen discrepancies, but by no means close the remaining gap (Orland,
1988). Some reports, however, indicate that rural schools have not received a
share of federal assistance proportional to either the numbers of students they
serve or their needs (e.g., Gjelten, 1980).
Compounding this problem, the contributions of state governments and the
federal government are often tied to new programs (designed by them) that may be
particularly difficult for rural districts to implement. The new difficulties
that confront rural school districts in operating some special education
programs are a case in point.
The additional responsibilities imposed by state and federal mandates are
intended to ensure that schools everywhere will provide similar programs in
similar ways. Under these circumstances, additional aid may be welcomed as a
mixed blessing by rural schools and communities. The funds benefit local
economies, but require school staff to redouble their efforts to be efficient.
WHY HAVEN'T ALL STATES ADOPTED EQUALIZATION MEASURES?
schools have been faulted for inefficiency because, even as their services were
viewed as inadequate, their per-pupil expenditures were viewed as too high. A
goal of the massive consolidations that occurred in this century was to
eliminate this alleged rural inefficiency. Today, many rural educators believe
that the push for efficiency has gone too far.
The emerging view is that rural and small schools are inherently more
expensive to operate than other schools. Population sparsity, the appropriately
small scale of rural schools, and the special needs of rural students and
communities need to be accommodated with flexible regulation and ample economic
support. Many rural educators hope that schooling will be recognized as an
essential investment in an infrastructure that will support the kind of economic
development that many rural communities have never experienced.
For the purpose of funding rural schools for such a mission, some observers
believe that it will be necessary to develop a typology that accounts for the
diversity among all school districts, a diversity most dramatically exhibited by
rural school districts (Augenblick & Nachtigal, 1985). Such thinking may
have influenced the passage in 1988 of a new school finance law in Colorado,
which establishes a classification based on eight types of school districts.
Much work needs to be done, however, to provide empirical justification for any
HOW IS ECONOMIC SUPPORT RELATED TO ISSUES OF RURAL CULTURE AND COMMUNITY?
The long history of interest by rural communities in their
schools contrasts markedly with the more recent history of inadequate funding
for rural schooling. When the expectations of rural schools were different,
their funding was not perceived to be inadequate. State and federal initiatives
have not--and perhaps cannot--resolve this dilemma, since their mandates, framed
to apply to all schools, impose burdens that may be out of scale to the benefits
they deliver to rural schools.
Such problems indicate a failure of policy to comprehend what rural schools,
and the communities and cultures that stand behind them, are really like.
Equalization of funding, or even a comparatively high level of funding for rural
school districts, will not change the disparity of rural and urban cultures and
Some educators (e.g., Wigginton, 1985) seek to cultivate a sense of
community, based on students' direct involvement with the features of local
culture and history. Wigginton's methods have been called "cultural journalism,"
because students develop publications about their involvement. As cultural
journalists, they not only learn basic skills in a meaningful context, but they
begin to understand and critique the world in which they live, according to
Other educators (e.g., Gatewood & DeLargy, 1985) believe that it is
important for rural schools to take an active role in cultivating economic
activity in rural communities, and new studies of "business incubation" have
begun to appear (e.g., Weinberg, 1988). These programs provide seed-money and
technical assistance to start businesses intended later to become
Still others stress the importance of understanding the national and global
context in which rural schools and economies operate. According to them, the
impoverishment of rural areas is a predictable, persistent consequence of the
economic relationship between rural regions and centers of metropolitan finance
and industry (e.g., Silver & DeYoung, 1986).
They suggest that rural citizens may legitimately view the schooling of their
children as something apart from the agenda of mass education. Instead of
regarding their children as the nation's "most precious natural resource," rural
parents may want their children to learn fidelity to such rural traditions as
neighborliness, hard work, self-reliance, and close relationship to the natural
environment (e.g., Wigginton, 1985).
The common theme in these differing views is that the expectation that rural
schools will deliver the same services in the same ways as other schools is
bound to end in frustration, since the community will and the economic support
necessary to meet the expectation may not exist. Hence, the issue of adequate
economic support for education in rural districts depends on the purposes
conceived for rural schools and on who conceives those purposes. Some rural
teachers have taken a lead in demonstrating viable rural alternatives.
Augenblick, J. & Nachtigal, P. (1985,
August). EQUITY IN RURAL SCHOOL FINANCE. Paper presented at the National Rural Education Forum, Kansas City, MO. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 258 788).
Gatewood, E. & DeLargy, P. (1985). SCHOOL-BASED BUSINESSES IN GEORGIA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 279 477).
Gjelten, T. (1980). THE RURAL EXPERIENCE WITH FEDERAL EDUCATION AID. Washington, DC: National Rural Center. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 191 650).
Jess, J. (1980, November). SCHOOL FINANCE IN RURAL EDUCATION. Paper presented at the annual Kansas State University Rural and Small Schools Conference (2nd), Manhattan, KS. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 194 293).
Monk, D., & Bliss, J. (1982). FINANCING RURAL SCHOOLS IN NEW YORK STATE: THE FACTS AND ISSUES (Cornell Information Bulletin 182). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 238 597).
Orland, M. (1988). Relating school district resource needs and capacities to Chapter 1 allocations: Implications for more effective service targeting. EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION AND POLICY ANALYSIS, 10(1), 23-36.
Silver, R. & DeYoung, A. (1986). The ideology of rural/Appalachian education 1885-1935: The Appalachian education problem as part of the Appalachian life problem. EDUCATIONAL THEORY, 36(1), 51-65.
Weinberg, M. (1988, May). RURAL INCUBATOR PROFILE. Paper presented at the annual conference of the National Business Incubation Association (2nd), Dallas, TX. (ERIC Documentation Reproduction Service No. ED 299 072).
Wigginton, E. (1985). SOMETIMES A SHINING MOMENT. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday.
Wright, L. (1981). Special funding for small and/or isolated rural schools. Las Cruces, NM: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 200 342).