Report Says Some Schools Are Underfunded

Tuesday, October 23rd 2007, 5:57 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma's rural public schools are underfunded and produce some of the worst achievement outcomes in the country, according to a national report issued Tuesday.

The report, by The Rural School and Community Trust, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit organization, said Oklahoma ranks fifth in need of rural education attention and improvement. It also said the state has the nation's lowest rural instructional
expenditures per student and the nation's fourth-lowest instructional salaries.

According to the study, called "Why Rural Matters 2007," 48.4% of Oklahoma's public schools are located in rural areas, and the 214,306 students enrolled in those schools account for 34.3% of the state's public-school enrollment.

Of those rural students, 36.2% are minorities, well above the national average of 22.9%. Oklahoma has had a 56.2% increase in rural minority students during the past 10 years, the report said.

The study said 57.2 percent of Oklahoma's rural students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, the fourth-highest percentage in the U.S. The national average is 38.5%.

"Rural education is evolving and growing," said Rachel B. Tompkins, the president of The Rural School and Community Trust. "It is time for action, not just acknowledgment, that rural schools need help. Teachers need better pay, students deserve equal access to academic supports and schools need the fiscal resources to make investments to improve the quality of education within rural communities and states."

The report noted Oklahoma spends an average of $3,591 per rural student, about three-fourths of the national average of $4,701.

Seven other states spend less than $4,000 per rural student: Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

The average salary expenditure per instructional staff member in Oklahoma is $38,273, according to the study.

The study said that on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which was administered to about 2,800 4th and 8th graders in Oklahoma between January and March of this year, the state's rural math and reading scores both were among the worst
11 in the U.S.

Oklahoma's rural high school graduation rate is 87.2%. The study listed Oklahoma among 13 high-priority states in which rural education needs significant improvement. The others are Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky and

State Rep. Tad Jones, R-Claremore, the chairman of the House's Education Committee, said he was not familiar with the report but that rural education in Oklahoma is "obviously very important." He said the state has one of the most respected school-funding formulas in the nation that helps to balance out funding for wealthy and poor districts.

He said that one thing now lacking is the ability of rural schools to build buildings that are needed to meet community needs, and that "can be improved upon."

"We'll continue to try and do what we can to help out those schools that may not have the finances to build stuff," he said. "We only have so many dollars, and higher ed and career tech would like to have more money. That's what we have to weigh. It's always
something we have to work out and consider."