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How Rural Districts See School Choice, Money Issues In The Legislature

Legislative debates over school choice and and education dollars could pit rural districts against urban schools.

Like schools in the state's large cities, many rural districts in Texas are worried the Legislature will embrace vouchers – which would allow families to get state money to move kids from public schools to private and religious alternatives.

They have pretty significant differences with their big-city brethren, though, when it comes to teacher retention and special services for students.

Don Rogers, who heads the Texas Rural Education Association, says there’s a simple reason rural districts don't like what are known as "school choice" options – he doesn’t believe they’ll benefit his rural schools.

“The reason rural schools oppose that is because of the fact it’ll take money out of the overall funding pot for all of our schools," he tells KERA. "And that’s one of the most serious problems that rural schools have. That’s just enough money to operate. We feel like if money put aside into a dual school system to fund private schools will be money that might have gone into a public school system.”

Rogers says rural schools will always be at a disadvantage, compared to big-city schools and districts.  

“They’re paying salaries like $50,000 per starting teacher, whereas in a rural area not too far away they’ll be starting at like maybe $32,000 to 34,000,” he says.

There are differences as well in Advanced Placement and special education classes. Rogers says high school kids up for academic challenges in sparsely populated areas are urged to take dual-credit college level courses with community college partners.

“It’s not uncommon,” Rogers says, “for us to have students leaving a rural school with 30 earned college hour credits, maybe even more. That’s how we expand our curriculum and stretch the student’s abilities.”

As for special education children?

“Some special education needs are difficult to meet, but rural schools are in cooperatives where they share teachers with one another,” Rogers says. “That’s how rural schools band together meeting special education requirements.”

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.