In an eye-opening report recently produced by the National Charter School Resource Center at Safal Partners, three key challenges were noted as barriers to growth of chartering in rural areas. While all charter schools face similar challenges, remote geography and sparse resources of rural areas make these challenges more acute for rural charter schools.
To recruit and retain talent, rural schools must overcome perceptions of geographic isolation, limited housing options, and low salaries (a 2007 report found that the average rural teacher earned $4,600 less than the average teacher in the U.S.). Lack of public transportation infrastructure or opportunities for partners and children can also add expense and recruitment barriers. Recruited educators may fear job loss, as there are few other career prospects in the region.
Providing transportation in rural areas can be financially overwhelming for rural charter schools. A 2011 analysis of spending and staffing patterns in the western U.S. found that transportation expenses in remote rural areas are almost 4.5 times as much as that of districts in cities. A 2001 study found that 85% of rural students spend more than 30 minutes on the school bus each way.
There are fewer buildings available in rural areas, and often fewer unused public or parochial school buildings. Rural charter schools often consider constructing their own buildings which requires external financing. As Jane Ellis from Center for Community Self-Help points out, lending is more difficult. Collateral values tend to be low in rural areas, and there are less potential users or buyers of the empty school facility if the school is not successful. The good news is that rural charter schools can secure funding through federal and state grant programs geared toward rural development. However, there is a challenge: charter schools need to obtain community support to quality for these grants, and that is not always easy, given opposition from influential superintendents or politicians.
The challenges facing rural charter schools are clear. Yet, some charter schools in rural areas are very successful. Next week we’ll examine success stories and emerging solutions that may be helpful to fledgling rural charter schools around the nation.