Quality Teachers: Issues, Challenges, and Solutions for North Carolina's Most Overlooked Rural Communities

Last Updated: August 01, 2007

Quality Teachers Report

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North Carolina is a very rural state. Beyond the interstate corridors, over 788,000 students attend rural schools—more than half of the students enrolled in North Carolina's public schools, and the second largest rural student population in the nation.

While some rural communities are thriving as they have been for over a hundred years, many are experiencing a variety of stressful developments. Whole counties are developing so fast that rural culture, traditions, and relationships are breaking apart. Communities that used to be anchored by the rhythms and traditions of small family farm life have morphed into enormous hog and chicken factories, employing far fewer workers. Many rural areas are experiencing an influx of children whose first language is not English and schools strain to find teachers for them. At the same time, 15 rural counties are losing population and are economically on the brink. In most countywide districts, small rural communities have long since lost their community schools to consolidation.

But while all of these changes are taking place, two things remain dismally constant: the children in poor rural communities are afforded neither the resources nor the quality teaching they need to overcome their challenges and experience academic and personal success. And many rural communities continue to grapple with historic racial tensions and painful memories that inhibit new relationships and thinking. As the children go, so goes the future of rural communities.

It was the rural school districts of Hoke, Halifax, Vance and Robeson, along with Cumberland, that decided that their long-standing inability to raise local dollars to supplement state public school dollars was not going to be resolved in a meaningful way by the state legislature. In 1992, these counties sued the state in the now famous Leandro school funding case arguing that the state had a constitutional obligation to provide what is now called a "sound basic education" to every North Carolina child regardless of local circumstances. Two state supreme courts have now ruled that there are students who are not receiving their constitutionally mandated sound basic education. The 2006 session of the General Assembly finally responded, initiating the Disadvantaged Student Supplemental Fund (or DSSF, already begun by executive order by the governor) and fully funding the low-wealth school fund for the first time.