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Public Statements

Office of Rural Education Policy Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. ROCKEFELLER. Madam President, I was proud to join Senator Baucus from Montana in introducing legislation on Tuesday to establish an Office of Rural Education Policy at the Department of Education. Senator Baucus has been a tireless advocate for many issues affecting rural States like Montana and West Virginia, and I have been proud to work with him on several rural issues over the years. Notably, Senator Baucus and I are fortunate to have terrific partners in our work to improve rural education, including a diverse array of organizations that support this bill.

Nearly one quarter of the students in America attend rural schools and the share of students in rural schools is increasing and more than half of the schools in West Virginia are in rural areas. This legislation will support these schools because it creates an Office in the Department of Education to make sure that Federal programs related to education are working for students in schools in rural areas.

Schools in rural communities face special challenges but, they also have unique capabilities. Many of them continue to face shrinking local tax bases, difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers and principals, limited access to advanced courses, and proportionally higher transportation costs. At the same time, while smaller schools lack economies of scale, they may benefit from this small size and closeness to their communities. Parental involvement and support is typically high, and the potential for innovation is great.

I am very proud of the communities in West Virginia and how they come together, often on their own time and with their own resources, to improve and support their local schools. Schools in West Virginia are also leaders in the use of distance learning given the geographical obstacles of our mountainous State. But, we need to make sure rural schools, including many in West Virginia, have the tools to succeed and access to the same opportunities that many schools in urban areas have, including health care, technology, and education.

The Office of Rural Education Policy is modeled after the successful Office of Rural Health Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services, which Congress established in 1987. The Office will be led by a director charged with coordinating the activities of the Department of Education concerning rural education. It will establish and maintain a clearinghouse for issues faced by rural schools, such as teacher and principal recruitment and retention; partnerships with community-based organizations; and financing of rural schools.

The office will identify innovative research and demonstration projects on rural schools, and recommend research to bridge any gaps. It will issue an annual report on the condition of rural education, and an analysis of the impact on rural education from proposed regulations and other activities will be made public.

Rural schools have been a part of our national fabric since its very beginning. These students deserve the attention from the Department of Education this legislation will provide. It has been said that education in rural America is ``too large to be ignored but too small and diverse to be highly visible.'' We need to establish this Office so that education in these communities can thrive and so that its successes are more visible. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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