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For Rural School Districts, the Challenges — and Opportunities — Are Unique

Michael Nutter

February 7, 2018

Limited funding and poor internet connectivity are just some of the challenges rural school districts face, but these issues can be counteracted with better reporting practices to secure maximum funding from the state.

 The proliferation of internet access and digital technology have made education more accessible and versatile for both students and teachers, but as I’ve written before, rural school districts have a harder time reaping those benefits. Living in small communities in remote areas, students must travel long distances to centrally located schools in order to gain access to the internet — and even then, there’s no guarantee that the strength of broadband connections will be sufficient.

We should strive to provide equal access to education for students from all areas and backgrounds, and to do that, we have to understand the unique obstacles many districts face. I’ve cited some of those obstacles below, along with some hidden opportunities for growth and innovation that rural districts can seize to maximize their limited funding and expand the accessibility of their learning resources.

Struggles for Students

Students in rural districts often live as far as an hour or two away from school by bus. Laying the infrastructure to adequately support students in such distant locations isn’t cost-effective for telecommunications providers, and even where broadband is available, it’s commonly priced beyond the means of the families it would serve. Students’ time at school may be the only time they have access to a strong internet connection that will allow them to do research for class assignments.

That means that K-12 students in rural areas don’t have access to resources that are now taken for granted in urban and suburban districts. They can’t participate in class discussions from home, nor can they use the internet to do research for assignments. A few sick days or a missed bus can spell disaster for these students’ grades, as they can’t use learning portals or learning management systems to turn in assignments on days they are absent.

Some schools address this issue by renting internet hotspots out to students, but this does nothing to solve the problem in areas without cellular coverage. Unless their district has the money to erect new cell towers, students remain locked out of opportunities for digital learning.

Teachers and Staff

Schools in rural districts tend to be understaffed, which limits the range and number of classes that can be offered and forces educators to teach classes outside their specialties. Beyond the obvious problem that poses for teachers, technology specialists in schools in rural districts can be few and far-between. Given issues with funding and access to personnel, it’s not uncommon to have one IT person in charge of troubleshooting tech problems for the whole school.

Students’ spotty or nonexistent internet access outside of classes can also make teaching difficult — teachers have to design curricula that don’t require as much outside work or research, restricting the kinds of materials and subjects that can be taught.


A lot of these issues that affect students and staff start at the district level. Without the proper funding, providing the right resources for each school is an incredibly difficult challenge. And since rural districts are funded by a relatively small base of taxpayers, fluctuations and shortcomings in funding allocation can be felt across schools.

But while these hurdles are daunting for district administrators, they can maximize the funding they get from their district by revamping their reporting processes, fixing errors in their student data, and delivering accurate record sets to their state Department of Education. With a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS platform, districts can quickly and easily check all of the record sets they get from each one of their schools for errors.

Many districts aren’t getting nearly the amount of funding to which they’re entitled from the state due to inaccurate reporting of critical metrics like enrollment in Special Services and LEP programs. By bringing accountability to their reporting processes and optimizing district funding, rural districts can level the playing field for their students and give them everything they need for academic success in the digital age.

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