Rural School Reform

Every child in Missouri should have access to a high quality education. In times past, when rural communities were isolated and communication took days or weeks, it was understandable, if regrettable, that the spread and quality of education might be lower in rural communities than in more densely populated areas. But advances in information technology mean that this no longer has to be the case. many of our school districts, and the organizational mechanisms that fund and manage them, date back to a time of more limited possibilities. There is no reason—and really, no excuse—for them to remain there.

At the same time, many schools are the heart of rural communities. There is an incredible amount of social capital created n the bleachers during a Friday night football game. Homecoming parades and car washes pull together citizens and encourage charity and cooperation. Folks spread far and wide look back fondly on their days in the small farm towns where they grew up. These institutions have survived in a rapidly changing world for a reason, and before we move too aggressively to close them down or merge them with other districts, we should think about how we can help them evolve to meet the changing needs of their students.

By making funding more flexible and allowing students to tap into the wide-ranging options available to them at low cost online or from providers like private schools, community colleges, or tutors, we can enable students to shape their education in the way that best fits them. Doing so will make rural schools more efficient, decreasing the need for state appropriations that are often skewed by the peculiarities of local tax valuations or consolidations that might move them to the next town over.

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