NCLB Unfair to Rural Districts, Democrat Senators Say to Colleagues

Demands by Democratic senators representing rural school districts to change the upcoming No Child Left Behind rewrite to make it easier for them to win federal funding is unlikely to be well met by their party colleagues representing states with more urban and suburban areas, The Hill reports. In addition to swaying colleagues from across the aisle, lawmakers like Senators Tom Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – both of whom are facing touch reelection fights this year – will need to convince members of their own conference that changes are needed. Not a simple task by any means.

Alexander Bolton explains that the fight is likely to pit party members against each other in a similar way that the law to expand background checks for guy buyers did earlier this month. It's not just about money, but also about optics for conservative voters that the Democratic Party isn't just serving the needs of urban districts on both coasts.

"Race to the Top was a great idea but it didn't really impact rural America as it could have and should have," Begich said of Obama's signature educational initiative.

As chairman of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, Begich is a lower-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

"As we move to the education issue, to rewrite No Child Left Behind, the rural components will be talked about," Begich said. "We want to make sure we don't miss the unique challenges that rural America has: Getting qualified teachers, getting living space for them and getting them classroom capacity."

Senators from rural states are arguing that, as written, NCLB weighs urban and suburban districts more heavily than it does rural ones, with the funding formulas favoring schools in those districts disproportionately. John Hill, the executive director of the National Rural Education Association, said that rich districts both in cities and suburbs benefit more from federal funds than do poor urban and rural schools – in some sense, at poor students' expense. Hill named this one of the main things wrong with the law.

But Hill says there's a significant challenge addressing the funding disparity in the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"The opposition would come from more affluent suburban areas and they're represented well in Congress," he said.
The Formula Fairness Campaign, an initiative sponsored by the Rural School and Community Trust, has found that the federal government provides almost twice as much money per disadvantaged student in Philadelphia, Pa., (population: 1.5 million) as in Philadelphia, Miss., (population: 7,500).

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