Cantwell: Rural Schools Need Assistance for Grants Competitions

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) expressed her support for ensuring that rural school districts get ample opportunity to compete for Department of Education funding for improvement initiatives. Along with 19 of her colleagues, Cantwell sent Education Secretary Arne Duncan a letter calling on him to consider the difficulties rural districts face in the contest for competitive grants.

“While I applaud the Department’s commitment to fund education innovation, I am concerned that rural schools do not have the resources to compete for these grants,” said Cantwell. “Greater emphasis on competitive grant funding in the President’s 2011 budget must be coupled with greater technical assistance to ensure that rural districts can compete on an equal playing field for these crucial funds. I am calling on the administration to consider the unique needs of rural districts and states, such as geographic isolation, teacher retention, and long-distance students. Education is a key to a quality life, and by placing a focus on our rural communities, we can guarantee all students have equal opportunities.”

Cantwell and the other senators also requested the Department consider establishing an Office of Rural Education to focus on strategies that address the needs of rural and frontier school districts.

One of Cantwell’s primary concerns is the emphasis placed on charter schools in the application process for the Race to the Top program. Washington state currently has no charter schools, and initiatives to develop a program have been defeated by voters three times – in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

In Washington state, just over half of all school districts are considered “rural.” Rural districts are defined as school districts with less than 1,000 students and no more than three schools. A 2004 GAO study showed that the average cost per pupil was 20 percent higher for rural school districts than those serving urban areas.

Cantwell has long been a champion for rural school districts and helped pass the Secure Rural Schools Act in 2007, which has provided $500 million each year from 2008-2011 to rural school districts from the County Payments Plan. million each year from 2008-2011 to rural school districts from the County Payments Plan.