High-Poverty Rural Districts Largely Left Out of Race to the Top

Last Updated: September 28, 2010

This article appeared in the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

The Race to the Top (RTTT) sweepstakes was not very effective in reaching high-poverty rural areas.

The second round winners, announced last month, include Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. Together they will receive $3.4 billion. Tennessee and Delaware, first round winners announced in March, won an additional $600 million between them.

In general, the winners aren’t very rural and the rural areas within them are not particularly poor. Exceptions are Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Hawaii is difficult to measure because the entire state in a single schools district encompassing both rural and urban areas. No need to mention Washington, D.C. when discussing rural.

The three states mentioned above are the only RTTT winners that are ranked in the upper half among states on the “Rural Importance Gauge” in Why Rural Matters 2009, a biennial analysis of rural education data produced by the Rural Trust. The only winning state ranked in the upper one-fourth of the gauge is North Carolina.

Five of the winning states, however, rank very low on the Rural Importance Gauge, including Florida (44th in rural importance), Maryland (45th), Massachusetts (47th), Rhode Island (48th), and Delaware (49th). in addition to Hawaii and Washington, DC.

Together, these largely non-rural states and D.C. took $1,525 million, or about 39% of the total RTTT grant awards. Two other winning states also rank in the lower half of the Rural Importance Gauge (New York at 31st and Ohio at 26th). Add their grants of $700 million and $400 million respectively and these predominantly urban states carried home two-thirds of the RTTT grants.

Even more important, the rural poverty levels in the winning states are not generally very high. Only five of these states — Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee — have even one “Rural 900” school district, that is, a district that is among the 900 rural districts with the highest student poverty rates. Only in Georgia and North Carolina are more than 2% of students enrolled in these poorest rural schools.

The winners are also states whose rural schools are comparatively large. In fact, all ten state winners (not counting Hawaii, which can’t be scored) have rural schools and school districts whose median size ranks above the national median size for rural schools and districts.

Read more from the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.