Rural schools face challenges, but teacher pay hikes likely helped

BY STAFF REPORTS
11/27/2019 10:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A school bus is seen parked in front of Panola High School in southeast Oklahoma. Spending per rural student was $4,737, second lowest in the country – only above Idaho at $4,118. WHITNEY BRYEN/OKLAHOMA WATCH
OKLAHOMA CITY – Teacher pay raises in 2018 and 2019 likely helped address some of the critical educational needs facing rural schools raised in a new report by a national education group. But other funding and academic issues remain, a rural schools organization leader says.

In the latest Why Rural Matters report, released Nov. 14, Oklahoma was ranked in the top five states where rural students are not receiving sufficient educational resources by the Rural School and Community Trust, an advocacy nonprofit.

Oklahoma’s poor ranking was mostly due to the report’s fiscal metrics, including per-pupil funding for rural students and teacher salaries. Spending per rural student was $4,737, second lowest in the country – only above Idaho at $4,118.

Nationally, spending per rural student averaged $6,367.

Rural teachers’ salaries ranked third lowest in the country at $56,591 per instructional full-time equivalent; the national average was nearly $70,000. The figures were adjusted for regional differences using the Comparable Wage Index.

The trust used U.S. Department of Education data from the 2014-15 school year.

“We’ve kind of corrected the salary part,” said John Cox, superintendent at Peggs Public School and president of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools. “We have improved significantly. I think there’s still some room to grow.”

He’s optimistic the Legislature will continue the state’s momentum by focusing on getting more funding into classrooms for needs like technology, curriculum and classroom supplies.

Another area of concern the researchers found was the low number of rural students who completed and passed an Advanced Placement exam. In Oklahoma, that was just 3%.

Oklahoma also fell short in dual enrollment. Just 9% of boys and 13% of girls in rural districts were enrolled in a college course during their junior or senior year of high school, compared to 20% and 26% nationwide. For this metric, the trust used 2015-16 school year data.

But in terms of academic performance, Oklahoma’s rural students scored slightly higher than non-rural students on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“We build relationships in small communities,” Cox said. “Relationships are the basis of building a strong education and getting the buy-in from students.”

Other findings from the report:

• 52% of Oklahoma’s public schools are located in areas classified as rural by the U.S. Census Bureau. The national average is 29%.

• 29% of Oklahoma’s public school students attend a rural school, well above the national average of 15%.

• Oklahoma ranked third highest for rural diversity. The researchers found a 53% chance that two randomly chosen students from an Oklahoma rural school would be of different races.

• Oklahoma has the third highest rate of students receiving special education services in rural districts at 18%. The national average is 14%.

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