Monday, February 15, 2010

Education in Rural Georgia: It has its advantages, but majority of the time its a hard struggle

While rural Georgia schools have many of the same needs as other schools, they often face different challenges based on their unique characteristics. Funding deficiencies, lack of programs targeted to students with special needs, difficulties in recruitment and retention of teachers, and inadequate facilities are among the challenges facing rural Georgia schools.

Lack of Funding:

Rural Georgia schools receive much, much less funding than of the total federal, state, and local spending on public education. Rural and small schools tend to be located in areas with low property values and few industries, making it more difficult to raise additional revenues. In addition, because federal grants are awarded based upon student population, rural districts often receive insufficient grant funds to accomplish the stated purpose. Rural school districts also often lack the expertise and capacity their urban and suburban counterparts in formulating grant applications for competitive federal grants.

Like here in Macon County, the state legislature cut between $75-80 million dollars from the Macon County School System according to my State Rep. Lynmore James (D-Montezuma). That will only hurt our school system even more, which already is losing students to schools from surrounding counties like Schley, Houston, Sunter Counties.

Teacher Recruitment and Retention:

Rural Georgia schools face formidable challenges in recruiting and retaining quality teachers. Compared with teachers in city schools and urban fringe schools, rural teachers tend to be less educated, slightly less experienced, younger, and less likely to belong to a minority group. Professional isolation and chronically low salaries and benefits exacerbate the difficulty in attracting quality teachers to rural and small town schools. Rural and small town teachers are also less likely to have access to professional development, special services, and opportunities for peer collaboration. They are more likely to have to teach out of the field in which they are certified. Few accredited teacher education institutions prepare teachers to teach in rural areas.

School Modernization:

Rural Georgia schools have at least one inadequate building feature, such as leaky roofs, faulty wiring, peeling paint, and malfunctioning heating, ventilation, or air conditioning systems. Many rural students in rural areas attend schools with at least one inadequate building feature. In building new schools with better technologies, some states and districts have closed older, smaller schools, forcing rural students to travel two hours or more to school like here in Macon County where we have built a new elementary & middle school.

Rural Georgia schools educate a great number of Georgia's students. Rural schools have often served as a catalyst for promising education reform - developing innovative strategies that can prove useful and effective for all schools. Yet, rural schools often face unique challenges in meeting the needs of their students, including difficulties in raising revenue and in recruiting and retaining quality teachers. The National Education Association (NEA) believes that the federal government must place increased emphasis on the needs of rural schools, including targeting resources to help attract, train, and retain quality teachers.

Here's what the next governor should do to address this:

Helping foster partnerships with teacher associations, businesses, and teacher education institutions to help with teacher recruitment and retention. Also essential are funding for recruitment incentives and early training opportunities for rural teacher candidates, and inclusion in teacher preparation curricula of special courses for teachers in rural schools.

Providing resources for kindergarten programs, preschool programs, and programs targeted to children with special needs in rural areas

Assisting rural districts in modernizing school infrastructure.

Expanding access to information technology in rural areas for programmatic instruction and staff professional development.

Providing for collection and analysis of student achievement data for students in rural areas and small towns.

Recognizing the unique needs of rural areas in designing competitive grant processes for receipt of federal education funds.

Rural Georgia schools tend to be smaller in size than their suburban or urban counterparts, with smaller class sizes and more interaction among faculty, students, and parents. But that's not the case in alot of rural Georgia Schools, as some classes have as many as 30+ students crammed into a single classroom. Rural school districts are often the largest single employer in their area and rural schools serve as the social, recreational, and cultural foundation of their communities.

Hopefully our next governor will finally solve our education crisis in the state of Georgia.

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