Efforts Will Target the Unique Education Challenges Facing
Rural North Carolina’s Students

The Public School Forum of NC is excited to announce the launch of Study Group XVII, which will examine the unique education challenges facing students across rural North Carolina. 

Continuing the Forum’s practice of bringing together thought leaders from myriad industries to distill collective knowledge on major, timely education issues, the Forum will embark on its seventeenth study group this fall to consider what it would take to provide every student in rural North Carolina the opportunity to receive a sound basic education. By convening subject-matter experts across North Carolina, the study group’s efforts will tackle one of our Top Ten Issues for 2019 by identifying new ways to address rural school funding challenges, to improve rural teacher recruitment and retention strategies, and how to tackle the broadband access gap for our rural students, among other considerations. 

We are delighted to invite stakeholders representing business, education, government, academia and the non-profit community to gather at Research Triangle Park Headquarters on Wednesday, October 30, 2019 from 10:00am – 1:00pm to launch Study Group XVII. The work of the Study Group will continue throughout the 2019-20 year and culminate in a Spring 2020 report cataloguing findings and recommendations on how to target rural North Carolina’s unique education challenges. 

North Carolina is home to 568,000 rural students, the second largest rural student population in the United States, after Texas. Eighty of North Carolina’s 100 counties are classified as rural – 40 percent of all NC public school students reside in rural counties – and 87 of the state’s 115 traditional K-12 public school districts are located in rural counties. North Carolina’s rural schools serve a significantly racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse student population; 41 percent of rural students in North Carolina are students of color (ranked 10th most racially diverse in the country) and 5.7 percent are English language learners (ranked 9th in the country). 

While our state is often touted as a site of rapid population and economic growth, this growth and prosperity is not happening uniformly across the state. Rural North Carolina has been hard hit by major structural changes in the economy that have taken place over the last few decades, including automation, industry consolidation and offshoring. Consequently, our state has become “two North Carolinas.” In one North Carolina, people live in largely urban areas that are attractive to businesses and job growth. The other North Carolina is made up of largely rural communities generally in a state of economic decline.

Sixty-two percent of rural, non-metro students qualify for free or reduced lunch compared to 46 percent for urban students. One of the most severe effects of poverty in the United States is that poor children enter school with a readiness gap, and it grows as they get older. This trend disproportionately affects rural students because they tend to come from poorer households. Given the pervasive poverty in rural North Carolina, it’s probably not surprising we have the 18th lowest rural 4th grade reading scores in the nation.

Students living in poverty can and do succeed with the proper support, which should include highly effective teachers, excellent school leaders and adequately funded schools with rich and challenging curricula. Study Group XVII will face the urgent task of identifying scalable best practices already happening on the ground, as well as new and innovative ways to better serve our rural students so that they can access a sound basic education, to which they are fully deserving under the North Carolina constitution—and that we as a state have a moral and economic imperative to deliver.

The Study Group XVII Launch Event on October 30, 2019 will feature introductions and a presentation from Alan Richard, education writer, policy consultant and board member of the Rural School and Community Trust; a discussion of key themes that will inform the Study Group’s topic; and a call to action from the Forum’s Senior Director of Policy, Dr. Lauren Fox, who will lead the work of Study Group XVII.  Study Group engagement sessions will be held in November at locations across the state.

We invite anyone interested in participating in the Study Group and/or attending the October 30th event to sign up here. For more information about Study Group XVII, please contact Dr. Lauren Fox at lfox@ncforum.org or 919-781-6833 x104.

About the Public School Forum of North Carolina

Since 1986, the Public School Forum of North Carolina has been an indispensable and nonpartisan champion of better schools and the most trusted source in the state for research and analysis on vital education issues. We bring together leaders from business, education and government to study education issues, develop ideas, seek consensus, and ultimately inform and shape education policy. We do that through research, policy work, innovative programs, advocacy, and continuing education for educators and policymakers. Follow us on Twitter @theNCForum and visit our website at https://www.ncforum.org/

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