New Research Shows Crises Facing Rural Students in Kentucky

December 09, 2023

The newly released ‘Why Rural Matters 2023’ report examines the needs and inequities affecting 9.5 million students attending public schools in rural areas – more than one in five students nationally. The report shows that in Kentucky, the challenges faced by rural students in education are highlighted by significant disparities in both academic performance and resource allocation.

"The findings of this report underscore the need to bridge the resource and opportunity gaps that rural students face, particularly in areas of poverty, education funding, transportation and access to technology,” said Brigitte Blom, President/CEO of the Prichard Committee. “We must implement solutions that recognize the unique needs of rural communities, ensuring every student in Kentucky has the resources and support needed to thrive."

The 'Why Rural Matters 2023' report sheds light on the significant transportation challenges facing rural communities in Kentucky. These challenges necessitate that a greater portion of rural schools' budgets be allocated to transportation, thereby diverting essential funds away from other critical education needs.

“The Prichard Committee’s ‘Big Bold Ask’ calls for the legislature to fully fund education transportation, enabling local districts to allocate their funds towards other education priorities identified by communities and school boards,” said Blom. “For each dollar our schools spend on transportation, they can only spend about $9 on instruction. Nationwide, schools can spend about $11 on instruction for every dollar on getting students to school.”

The report also highlights Kentucky’s weakness in access to broadband internet. Here, 16.1% of households lack that access. This lack of connectivity hinders educational enrichment and communication, and it can interrupt continuity of schooling, especially in areas where transportation is challenging due to the topography.

“The 'Why Rural Matters 2023' report highlights the urgent need for Kentucky to focus on the needs of rural students, schools, and communities,” said Rob Stafford, Ed.D., President of the Kentucky Rural Education Association. “Although great things are happening in our schools, we need to address the factors that are negatively impacting our rural communities and provide more academic and career opportunities for students.”

The 'Why Rural Matters 2023' report provides a detailed analysis of Kentucky’s rural education system across five key categories, where the state’s ratings are cause for concern: The importance of focusing on rural education: Kentucky is categorized as 'crucial', the highest level of concern. Student and family diversity: The state is rated as 'urgent', reflecting the high percentage of rural school-aged children living in poverty.

Educational policy context: Rated as 'very important', this aspect looks at the ratio of instructional to transportation expenditures.

Educational outcomes: Kentucky falls into the 'critical' category, focusing on the high school graduation rate for rural students. Access to supports for learning and development: Also rated as 'critical', this category assesses household broadband access. ‘Why Rural Matters 2023’ was published by the National Rural Education Association (NREA) and its partners to examine how educational supports and resources for student well-being are being distributed, casting light on which rural children are most in need of additional support.

“The ‘Why Rural Matters’ report arms NREA state leaders, legislators, and communities with the information and data needed to take action in their state capitals, advocating for the needs of rural students and highlighting strengths in rural schools,” said Allen Pratt, Executive Director, National Rural Education Association (NREA).

For the complete report, including data on the condition of rural education in each state, visit the NREA website.