For Real Change in Rural Schools, Cardona Must Do More Than Listen

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Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is making strides to elevate rural education through virtual listening and learning roundtables with rural youth from across the nation. “Compared to urban schools, rural community schools have a hard time offering a wider variety of classes and extracurriculars,” he told the press after hearing about the experiences of rural students coping with the pandemic in a roundtable last month. “Our conversation today will help us focus on how we can best provide more opportunities for students in rural communities to get the same educational experience that students in larger schools are getting.” 

While it’s likely that we’ll see more roundtable sessions like this pop up thanks to the approval of the American Rescue Plan—which, to be clear, is a great thing—rural families, educators, and advocates have to send a clear message that listening alone isn’t good enough. For meaningful change to happen, we need to start making specific requests of leaders like Cardona to make sure that all this listening is fueling real action in rural communities.

Education Organizations Ask Cardona To Make Rural Students a Priority

Look, it’s no secret that I think the federal government could do more to expand broadband in rural communities and help get more diverse, highly-qualified teachers in our schools. But there’s also several steps that have to be taken before those things can become a reality, and an impressive group of education organizations like the School Superintendents Association (AASA), the National Rural Education Advocacy Consortium, and Teach for America have already joined together to formally request action on those issues. 

In their letter to Secretary Cardona, these national organizations made five specific demands that would provide rural students with the same opportunities as their urban and suburban counterparts.

1. Maintain the Office of Rural and Community Engagement within the Office of Communication and Outreach to ensure greater internal and external awareness of rural education needs and improve deliberations on policy development, communications, and technical assistance that impact rural education. 

2. Advise the Biden administration and Congress to prioritize the nomination and confirmation of a new Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for the Office of Rural and Community Engagement (ORCE).

 3. Re-institute its rural education listening sessions to understand the perspective of state and local school leaders working to access new funding from the American Rescue plan and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

 4. Mandate the DAS of ORCE to formalize the Department’s inter-POC rural working group. 

5. Advise the Biden administration to reinstate the White House Rural Council to better coordinate federal programs and maximize the impact of federal investments that promote economic prosperity and quality of life in rural communities.

While the language here might sound a little wonky, the requests being made are actually pretty straightforward. Rural communities need allies in Washington who can ensure that their needs are being adequately understood and addressed by policymakers, and that can happen if we continue to maintain and support the Office of Rural Community Engagement. 

But it can’t stop there. With new leadership in that office, the federal government can double down on its efforts to improve rural education through diverse working groups with real skin in the game to help access and direct new funding from the American Rescue Plan.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency funds stand to flow towards America’s rural schools, and these five simple actions are a critical part of getting the recovery right. Cardona has shown us that he’s willing to listen. Now, by taking action, he has an opportunity to prove he’s serious about real change in rural schools.

Photo from Twitter.

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