While Texas is responsible for educating more rural students than any other state in the country — nearly 700,000 — it’s not doing as much for those students as most other states in two key areas. That’s according to a new report from the Rural Schools and Community Trust.
The report based on national statistics found that Texas spends an average of $5,386 on instruction per rural student, which is far less than most states.
It also found a greater gap in academic performance based on income in Texas compared to other states. While overall results on the national standardized test were average for rural students in Texas, poor rural students lagged significantly behind their more affluent peers. However, rural Texas schools have one of the highest graduation rates in the country, averaging 94%.
Rural Schools and Community Trust board member Alan Richard said state funding is especially important for rural schools because they often have fewer students and less money to spend.
“Many rural schools have wonderful things to offer. They give you individual attention and they’re caring places where everybody knows each other,” said Richard. “But too often rural schools are made to struggle across the country.”
The report is based on data from the 2016-2017 school year, before state legislators increased funding for public education.
Michael Lee, executive director of the Texas Association of Rural Schools, said the new funding bill passed in 2019 gave most rural schools more money.
“But there are some discrepancies as far as the rural schools versus urban schools. I think in some places it kind of widened the gap for opportunities and recruitment of teachers,” Lee said.
Because most urban districts started out paying their teachers more, salary increases in urban districts were often larger as well, Lee said, although the additional funding for teacher incentives in rural schools could help level the playing field.
Lee said that one element of the report rang particularly true for him: difficulty accessing the internet.
“That’s an issue in rural Texas,” Lee said. “A lot of our rural districts, they will open early, stay (open) late, (to) let students get their work done because they don’t have the internet at home.”
The report also found that rural students in Texas are more likely to move schools, and are more racially diverse.