Arkansas Rural Advocates Protect Transportation Funding for Districts

Last Updated: March 30, 2012

This article appeared in the March 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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When Rural Community Alliance (RCA) leadership learned last month that a bill to amend Arkansas school transportation funding law was quietly making its way through committee, they moved quickly to analyze its impact on isolated rural districts and worked with their members in those districts as well as school leadership to halt its passage. As a result, ten districts will continue to be able to continue to operate local schools that keep students close to home.

Be sure to see this month’s related story on their related efforts, “RCA and Allies Explore New Ways to Build Support for the Work”

This year, the legislature was conducting a fiscal session, only the second ever in the Natural State. A 2008 constitutional amendment limits the work of these sessions to budget bills, and the legislature can take up non-budget bills only after a resolution passes in both chambers. However, RCA Executive Director Renee Carr was alerted to a bill making a substantive change in how transportation funds would be distributed: districts that had closed their isolated schools would also be able to receive additional transportation funding, hurting the districts that were still operating their schools.

Carr responded to the funding threat immediately: she obtained a printout from the State Department of Education showing the effect of the bill on each isolated district, as well as the districts that would benefit from the bill. The impact was significant: $105,000 would have been shifted from small, poor, isolated districts including Emerson-Taylor, Hillcrest, and Ouachita River to four wealthier districts that closed schools. RCA mobilized superintendents, principals, and organization members in each of the districts that would have lost funding to reach out to their senators, representatives, and members of the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC), where the bill was to be heard. RCA testimony exposed the true effects of the bill on children and families in isolated areas. When the vote was called, the measure — which had quietly been on a fast track to passage with the people affected none the wiser — failed, only receiving three "yea" votes.

Since its inception in 2003, RCA has been a voice for rural schools and students in Arkansas, and its members are deeply involved in shaping policy to ensure quality education for every student. The organization formed initially as a grassroots movement in response to then-Governor Mike Huckabee’s proposals to consolidate most of the state’s rural school districts.  The group has also successfully organized and advocated for school funding reform and worked to support students in newly consolidated schools. Their expanded mission now includes revitalizing rural communities, and they now have over 1,200 members in more than 50 communities. Be sure to see this month’s related story on other RCA efforts, RCA and Allies Explore New Ways to Build Support for the Work.”

Read more:

Rural Community Alliance website:

Brief local coverage of the session:

Additional coverage of this story can be found on the Center for Midwestern Initiatives website:

Read more from the March 2012
Rural Policy Matters.