New Name, Expanded Mission for Arkansas's ACRE


Last Updated: September 29, 2009
 

Arkansas’s ACRE is branching into new work and has taken a new name that reflects its development
 
This article appeared in the September 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
 
Rural Community Alliance is the new name for an organization that has proven its capacity to organize rural residents for the purpose of improving educational opportunities. In August, Arkansas’s Advocates for Community and Rural Education (ACRE) began operating as the Rural Community Alliance.
 
The name Rural Community Alliance reflects the organization’s “expanded mission of revitalizing rural communities and helping rural youth,” writes Lavina Grandon, Policy and Education Director for the organization.
 
The group arrived at the name after a series of discussions among members and a process that enabled members to vote on a name.
 
The organization formed initially as a grassroots movement known as Save Our Schools in 2003 in response to then-Governor Mike Huckabee’s proposals to consolidate most of the state’s rural school districts. Through skillful organizing and advocacy, Save Our Schools led efforts that resulted in the minimum size for school districts being changed from a proposed 1,500 students to 350 students, which allowed more than 200 rural districts to remain intact. The group also headed a coalition that advocated for and helped achieve more money in the school funding formula, additional funding for high poverty schools and for pre-schools, incentives for teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools, and other reforms.
 
After that controversial legislative session, the group recognized the need for a permanent organization to advocate for rural schools and students, and in 2004 incorporated as a non-profit under the name Advocates for Rural and Community Education.
 
The organization now has 37 local chapters and nearly 700 members across the state. It continues its legislative work and led efforts that successfully blocked a proposal to force all rural schools into county-wide school districts and a provision that would have made superintendents employees of the state rather than local school boards. The group has also won expanded rights for rural students and schools.
 
In addition to its state education reforms, ACRE works with chapters on a variety of local issues, where it focuses on improving quality of education for all students and creating effective school environments and programs for at-risk students.
 
Expanded Mission
 
About a year and a half ago, ACRE members began to realize that it was not enough to advocate for improved educational opportunities for rural students and schools. As is in the case in many rural places, a number of small rural communities in Arkansas continue to lose jobs and people. ACRE decided to get to work to improve opportunities in rural places, stem outmigration, and create a better quality of life for rural residents.
 
Last year the group launched a community re-vitalization effort in partnership with three very different rural communities (see the February 2009 edition of RPM and ACRE’s website at http://www.thenewrural.org). Those communities have completed a strategic planning process and now have a community-developed and inspired roadmap for shaping their own futures.
 
“The next fifty years for rural American will not be like the last fifty years,” says Grandon. “Just as surely as there was a movement of people from rural areas to cities for the big corporation jobs and a movement from the family farm to big corporate operations, there will be a movement back to rural areas as big corporations move overseas, the world economy and energy prices demand more regional economic solutions, and people start demanding a higher quality of life.”
 
Grandon continues, “Eventually we must remake the rural landscape, networking our communities and combining our own efforts with state and federal assistance, the latest technologies, and the experience of other rural areas in re-diversifying their economies and enhancing quality of place and quality of life. The time is right… and we now have the state-wide reach in our organization to lead the way.”
 
The name Rural Community Alliance reflects this expanded mission.
 
You can learn more about the Rural Community Alliance at its website http://www.thenewrural.org/. The organization will operate under the name Rural Community Alliance and will retain its legal name of Advocates for Community and Rural Education.
 
Read more from the September 2009 Rural Policy Matters.