Rural Equity Collaborative Fights for Rural Kids in Four States

Last Updated: June 01, 2004

This article appeared in the June 2004 Rural Policy Matters

Four state organizations and the Rural School and Community Trust are entering the third year of a partnership that is making a difference for rural kids in Mississippi, Nebraska, Vermont, and West Virginia.

The Rural Equity Collaborative (REC) includes Challenge West Virginia, the Nebraska Coalition for Educational Equity and Adequacy, Southern Echo (Mississippi), and the Vermont Children's Forum, as well as the Rural Trust. It focuses organizing, policy research, and communications campaigns on issues surrounding school finance and governance.

The REC was recently notified that it will receive major support for a third year from the Ford Foundation.

While progress on school finance and governance issues is often elusive and painfully slow, the evidence of progress in these states is clear:

  • Governor Bob Wise of West Virginia earlier this year announced an end to school consolidation as a state policy and the beginning of an era when the state will focus on making small rural schools the best they can be. Days later, in his State of the State address, he supported bills increasing funding for teachers in small schools and limiting the length of bus rides.
  • Citizens in Montgomery County and Holmes County, Mississippi elected many new local education officials in a significant victory for rural education reform. While Southern Echo did not have a direct role in any of these elections, those who ran for office and those who were most active in their campaigns credit their experience with Echo and its own local organizational partners for giving them the civic skills and self-confidence to enter the political arena and have success.
  • In Nebraska, a coalition of rural schools and the state's teachers union have formed an unprecedented coalition to coordinate a legal challenge to the state's school funding system, expected to be filed very soon.
  • Last year, the Vermont Legislature enacted "reforms" to the state's landmark school funding formula that lower the burden on property owners while preserving the formula's equalization features.

The collaborative was organized by the Rural Trust. In choosing partners, we gave high priority to groups with which we already had a close working relationship. We also considered whether the groups had the capacity to operate at a statewide level on complex issues like school finance, strong leadership, and the sophistication to make effective use of research. The four partners operate in states that are in the heart of four characteristically rural regions-Appalachia, the Great Plains, Northern New England, and the South. Three of these states are among only four nationwide with a majority rural population.