Explore and support creative strategies to more effectively utilize local resources and school staff that recognize both the unique assets and constraints in districts based on their size and location.
Context and Arkansas Progress
Nearly half of all Arkansas residents live in small and rural communities. This makes it critically important to understand the unique challenges and opportunities that impact the ability of these communities to realize opportunities and priorities presented in this report.
There are a particular set of considerations that further exacerbate challenges associated with improving educational outcomes in small and rural communities. These challenges include:
- Funding and Spending
At the same time, small communities have a unique set of strengths that present future opportunities for education. Stakeholders express a strong sense of community in many of these areas and highlight the small size as a strength:
Opportunities for Arkansas
Beyond increasing availability of services (e.g., transportation and broadband access, for which there are significant federal funds now available) in rural communities, the state could also consider how to tailor priorities described in previous sections to account for some of the unique challenges present in rural communities and explore innovative approaches to address them, including:
- Creative staffing and scheduling approaches that enable schools to better utilize and prioritize current teachers in sustainable ways while reducing the need to attract, hire, and retain more teachers.
- Community partnerships to leverage local organizations and businesses to offer enrichment opportunities for students.
- Expanded resource sharing, including staff. Montana is working to increase access to post-secondary opportunities in rural areas through course and program sharing across institutions alongside remote delivery.
Technology-based solutions to provide students with remote access to high-quality courses and teachers in both academic and non-academic areas. Innovative virtual CTE programs that match small groups of students to employers within or outside Arkansas, like CareerWise Colorado, could provide students with access to learning opportunities, regardless of whether the employer or program was located in their home district.
Some neighboring states have also adjusted funding formulas to account for the unique context of small, rural districts. While Arkansas provides a small amount of isolation funding to rural districts, neighboring states have transformed their funding mechanisms to directly support students in rural school districts.