Identifying the Poorest Rural Schools

Last Updated: August 20, 2009

This article appeared in the August 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
The Rural Trust has identified the 10% of rural and distant/remote small town schools that have the highest percentage of student poverty. These districts serve almost 1.3 million students and have poverty rates higher than many high-poverty urban districts. Yet poor rural districts and their students are generally ignored and misunderstood in state and federal policy. We want to help remedy this situation and bring attention to these important but overlooked school districts.
Here’s how we identified the poorest rural school districts.
For this analysis we used data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the data base for funding under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind).
We have previously reported a similar analysis for the school districts with the highest poverty rates among districts that serve communities of 2,500 or fewer people. This is the most conservative definition of “rural.” There are about 7,660 of these districts, and rounding up to 8,000, we dubbed the 10% with the highest student poverty rate the “Rural 800” (see RPM, September 2007).
Rural 900 (click for larger image)But for the analysis we report on today, we also include districts that serve small towns of up to 25,000, as long as they are classified by the National Center for Education Statistics, with the support of the U.S. Census Bureau, as “distant” or “remote” from an urbanized area. There are about 1,860 of these districts. So together, the “rural” and “small town” districts total about 9,500.
We eliminate from this pool all districts that have too few or too small a percentage of students in poverty to qualify for federal funding under Title I, and we also exclude specialized districts that serve adjudicated students or others with special needs.
That leaves us with about 9,000 rural-small town districts. We identified the 10% with the highest student poverty rate as measured by census data (the data used to identify Title I eligibility related to poverty). We dub these 900 districts the RT-900.
Read more from the August 2009 Rural Policy Matters.