RELEASE: A New Frontier – Utilizing Charter Schooling to Strengthen Rural Education

Washington, DC
January 29, 2014
For Immediate Release

Too often charter schools in rural America face challenges that states could help them avoid. In a report released by Bellwether Education Partners, Andy Smarick examines the state policies that can hinder or foster the growth of rural charter schools and argues for a new approach to charter schooling in rural America—one that’s prudent and respectful of the unique characteristics of rural communities but more open to charter growth than in the past.

“A New Frontier” examines statutes and regulations in five states with significant rural populations—Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, and Ohio—and brings to light policies and practices that prevent charters from opening in rural communities, constrain access to human capital, and create significant disparities in funding.

Smarick’s findings include:

  • States should develop policies that acknowledge the challenge of opening and operating rural charter schools but also allow charter operators, school districts, and state officials to consider where and when charter schools might be a useful reform strategy. States too often cut with an axe, limit or prevent rural charter schools outright, where a scalpel is needed.
  • Policymakers should consider strategies for broadening the pool of potential teaching candidates. Recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers is one of the toughest challenges for rural schools and for rural charter schools in particular. Possible strategies include certification waiver processes and alternate routes that balance charter school autonomy and accountability.
  • States should enable rural charter schools to access unutilized and underutilized public assets, including school buildings, municipal facilities, and land. Rural charter schools do not have equitable access to funding, transportation, and facilities. State policies should seek to remedy this imbalance.
  • Technology is an essential tool for schools seeking to reduce student commute times and provide access to high-quality instruction. State policymakers should provide rural charters with the flexibility to innovate with digital learning and engage with them in developing policies informed by practice.

“There are numerous examples of rural charter schools that have given families greater choice, produced outstanding student results, and reinvigorated the communities they serve,” said Smarick. “Our research has uncovered a number of things rural areas can learn from the successes of charters in urban and suburban areas as well as shined a light on issues particular to rural America that make chartering difficult and how we might help overcome them.”

Terry Ryan, president of the Idaho Charter School Network, adds “Charter schools have provided an academic lifeline for students in troubled urban school districts for decades, yet charter opportunities are not available for most of the country’s 11 million rural students. Smarick’s smart new paper makes a strong case for why it is past time to extend charter opportunities to children who live in the nation’s small town and rural communities. Every child in America deserves access to quality school choices.”

This paper is the first in a series of policy briefs published by the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho (ROCI), an initiative of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. ROCI brings together some of the best thinkers in education to research the challenges of rural education and propose innovations, models, and programs to address them.

Download the report and register for the webinar on January 30 at 1pm here.