In Nevada, one out of every eleven students attends school in a rural school district, and while rural education in the state comes with several strengths compared to its urban counterparts — including high graduation rates and higher percentage of students graduating with an Advanced Diploma — data and research suggest that rural students and school districts face their own unique challenges, according to a new report.
The report released by the Guinn Center Friday provides an initial look at the state of rural education in Nevada using publicly available data from the Nevada Department of Education’s Nevada Report Card website.
“There is a body of research that suggests that educational outcomes for rural students significantly lag those of their urban peers. We did not find significant differences, and in some instances, rural students outperformed their urban peers,” said the author of the report, Kenneth Retzl, the Guinn Center’s director of education policy.
The center’s analysis found rural students underperform compared to their urban counterparts in every grade level for both the English language and mathematics portions of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), an assessment which measures a student’s proficiency. Nevada is one of only 13 states and territories that administers the SBAC assessment.
High schools in rural districts also have a lower percentage of high growth, high wage occupational programs than do urban district high schools. For example,urban high schools offer more programs in both information technology, as well as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Rural school districts have a greater percentage of students with an Individual Education Program, which is the designation for special education, according to the report. However, students who qualify for free-and-reduced price lunch — which is used as an indicator of poverty — is 13 percentage points lower in rural areas. Rural school districts also serve a smaller percentage of English language learners.
Demographically, in rural districts white students comprised 61.6 percent of the total student population in the 2018-19 school year, compared to 28.6 percent in urban districts. Native American students made up more than 4 percent of rural students, but less than 1 percent in urban districts.
Like many other states, Nevada provides additional funding to rural school districts to cover increased transportation costs and high fixed costs. The 2019 Legislature approved steps to replace the system that currently funds K-12 education — the Nevada Plan — with the “Pupil-Centered Funding Plan” in the 2021-22 school year. The new plan will provide more funding to students who are low income, English language learners, or on individualized education plans.
Critics complain the revised plan will adversely affect rural school districts more than urban ones, based on preliminary data. Under the proposed new Pupil-Centered Funding Plan only four school districts in Nevada — the districts in Clark, Mineral, and Washoe counties, and the State Public Charter School Authority — are expected to receive an increase in funding, according to the report.
“The primary challenge faced by rural school districts in Nevada currently is the lack of certainty regarding the transition to the new Pupil Centered Funding Plan,” reads the report. “Rural school districts may be asked to do even more with frozen funding levels for the foreseeable future.”