Rural Schools: The Next Frontier for Chartering?

When I visited Idaho last month, a largely rural state, to boost their chartering sector, my eyes were opened. As Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network aptly summarized in a recent report, “The charter school revolution has largely bypassed rural America and its students.”

I’ll admit I’ve been focused on the urban centers and the rapid growth of chartering in major cities across the nation. But approximately one in four public school students in America attends school in a rural community, accounting for more than 11 million students in total. Poverty, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and homelessness among rural teens are as common as among urban teens, if not more so.  Low-income rural students are less likely than average to attend college.

These statistics are cited in a new report, “Harvesting Success, Charter Schools in Rural America” produced by the National Charter School Resource Center.  They conclude that rural schools have not followed the success of high-performing urban charter schools, and rural growth has been slow. As of 2010, rural charter schools enrolled only 2% of rural students while urban charters enrolled 6% of urban students. Too often rural families only have a single school option.

It is not a coincidence that the seven remaining states in the U.S. without chartering legislation are primarily rural. It is harder to find legislative support in rural areas. School superintendents are influential leaders and they feel threatened by the growth of chartering. They perceive that charter schools draw limited resources from their district schools. One rural governor stated that authorizing charter schools “may leave the public schools in a much worse position than we’ve got them in now.”  Despite that, Alabama passed legislation in 2014 permitting charter school options, and West Virginia, Nebraska, and Kentucky are trying mightily to pass chartering.

Policy pushback is not the only barrier to rural charter school growth. The report identifies several other key challenges. Find out more in tomorrow’s blogpost.