Here and There Across the Rural U.S.

Last Updated: December 29, 2009

This article appeared in the December 2009 Rural Policy Matters.

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Teacher Salary Gap Getting Wider in Arkansas

As in almost every state, some teachers in Arkansas make considerably more than others with similar experience and responsibility. And, as in most states it is teachers in rural districts who lose out. The salary gap in Arkansas is over $23,000 with teachers in the prosperous university town of Fayetteville topping the state with average salaries of $59,000. Sparsely populated rural districts have the lowest salaries. In those districts, transportation costs are relatively high and competition from wealthier, higher-paying districts is fierce. Predictably, some state leaders are calling for yet more district consolidation as a means to bring salaries in line. But other leaders suggest that stronger salary supports and better efforts to reduce turnover within the state would be more productive.

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Proposed Mississippi Cuts Tough on Rural Districts

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has proposed cutting funding for education in his state by 9.4% in the upcoming budget year. Measures to achieve the savings include reducing funding for the K–12 school finance formula, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, by $327 million or 10.9%, a move that would be particularly hard on high-poverty, property-poor rural districts; suspending the pay raises teachers receive automatically based on years of service; merging several historically black colleges; and consolidating school districts. Many school districts have reported that they do not have enough in reserves to sustain cuts at the rate proposed. Several lawmakers have questioned whether consolidation of districts or colleges will save money and suggested that avoiding deep cuts to education is a necessary step toward improving the state’s long-term economic outlook.

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Louisiana Lifts Cap on Charters

Louisiana has lifted its cap on the number of charter schools in the state. The charters have been controversial, partly because they have been used extensively in New Orleans where charter authorization did not keep up with student enrollment and many residents have been unclear on where they can send their children to school. In rural areas, charters have been controversial in part because they take money from traditional schools with serious funding limitations.
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Tennessee Expects Teacher Shortage Despite Recession

A recently released report from the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research says the number of teachers available in the state will not be sufficient to keep up with demand in coming years.

The report predicts a need for nearly 12,000 more teachers than will be available in the 2010–2011 school year, a gap expected to grow to as many as 31,000 positions in 2013–2014. The need for teachers will be highest in math and science; English as a Second Language; elementary music, art, and physical education; eighth grade, and vocational education.

Researchers blame the gap on a dearth of teachers sufficiently qualified in technical subjects, lowered pupil teacher ratios, and changes in certification standards.

Teaching shortages tend to have the greatest effects in high-poverty isolated rural districts and in low-wealth rural districts located near urban centers. Lower teachers salaries in rural districts contribute to recruitment and retention challenges.

Rural districts won a school funding lawsuit in Tennessee that charged that significant differences in teacher salaries contributed to unequal educational opportunities for rural students.

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Read more from the December 2009 Rural Policy Matters.