Today, on Teacher Appreciation Day, we have an opportunity to say "thank you" to America's educators. In particular, I'd like to send a brief message of thanks to our teachers working in small towns and rural communities across the United States.
A quality education is imperative to the lives of children in every corner of our country, no matter where they live. This can be more challenging in smaller rural schools that face unique geographical challenges, tight budgets and barriers to technology in the classroom.
I've had the opportunity to work with Education Secretary Arne Duncan on these issues as part of our partnership on the White House Rural Council. Just last month, we had the opportunity to hear from rural educators and students in Wisconsin and Iowa about some of the unique challenges facing rural education.
Together, we're working to increase Federal collaboration in support of rural schools and community colleges. We're also focused on making sure that all Americans have the chance to pursue their higher education at a quality school and at an affordable cost.
Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $580 million in 700 educational facilities -- such as schools and libraries -- that will help rural educators deliver the experiences and instruction that will prepare our children to pursue their dreams. Through USDA's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program, we've funded distance education projects to help connect rural students with more educational opportunities across the country. And earlier this year, USDA Rural Development signed a memorandum of understanding with the American Association of Community Colleges and the Rural Community College Association to better coordinate resources in helping rural community colleges thrive.
We're committed to our work because we know how committed rural teachers are to their work. These folks know that students in rural areas are counting on them to prepare for a changing world. Rural America forms the backbone of our nation -- creating jobs, ensuring our energy security, protecting our resources and promoting our values -- and today's rural students must become tomorrow's rural leaders if America is to compete in a global economy.
To do so, they need the help, the caring and the commitment that only a teacher can provide. So today, I hope folks everywhere will thank a teacher, and join me in recognizing the impact our rural educators have every day on the lives of America's students.