Rural PreK Challenges

Last Updated: December 03, 2008

This appeared in the December 2008 Rural Policy Matters.

In a May 2008 policy brief, "Meeting the challenge of rural pre-K," the non-profit organization pre[k]now discusses the challenges of providing preschool access in rural areas and offers recommendations for solving this problem of access.

Forty years of data demonstrate that children who attend high-quality preschool have greater opportunities in education and in life, including, but not limited to an increase in overall school readiness, stronger early literacy skills, greater likelihood of completing high school and going on to post-secondary education and/or employment, and less likelihood of needing special education services or other educational interventions.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that rural children have less access to high-quality preschool than children in urban and suburban areas.

"Meeting the challenge of rural pre-K" explores some of the challenges rural districts face in providing preschool programs. Rural districts, on average, have more funding restrictions, more difficulty finding qualified early childhood educators and paraprofessionals, greater facilities needs, and other challenges more severe than districts in other locations. Rural families have less access to center-based preschool programs, and a relatively high percentage of rural families are low-income, but not quite low-income enough for their children to qualify for Head Start.

Depsite these challenges, providing access to high-quality preschool will improve the educational outcomes of participating children and districts and reduce the number of children needed educational interventions. Communities are also like to see economic benefits when residents have access to high-quality preschool.

Some of the recommendations provided in "Meeting the challenge of rural pre-K" include:
  • Provide pre-k grants through a formula rather than a competitive process because rural districts generally lack the staff to participate in competitive grant applications;
  • Provide funding for pre-k programs through the regular school finance system;
  • Build on Head Start programs by allowing other children to participate without diluting services to Head Start-eligible children; allow blending of funds to make the most of all available funds in communities where the number of children is relatively low;
  • Recognize the need for flexibility in rural areas to meet local needs and expand access to school-based programs and in-home providers, and recognize need for both flexibility and funding for facilities, facility adaptation, and transportation services;
  • Recognize that pre-k investment is economic development and treat it as such by investing in pre-k as a means to attract and keep residents in rural communities and meet the workforce availability needs of rural residents;
  • Invest in teacher training initiatives that meet the needs of teachers in rural areas. The initiatives -- which include things like providing student loan relief to rural teachers, increasing the supply of degree programs available to rural residents, creating mentoring programs adapted to the realities of rural school settings, providing and using distance learning technologies for professional development for teachers, and investing in "Grow Your Own" programs -- are much the same set of policies needed to put rural schools on a more even footing with other schools in recruiting teachers of all subjects and ages.

Smith, M., Patterson, K., & Doggett, L. (2008). Meeting the challenge of rural pre-K.

Schweinhart, L. (2005). The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study through age 40: Summary, conclusions, and frequently asked questions.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2007). Status of education in rural America.

Longitudinal studies of the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study:

Read more from the December 2008 Rural Policy Matters.