“There is no reason that a change was made this year and the Department of Education should listen to Congress and fix this problem quickly,” the statement said.
The department’s notifications rattled rural districts, which have come to rely on the program to supplement the costs of services that are far less accessible to rural students, like technology, mental health and guidance counselors, and full-day kindergarten.
Congress created the Rural Education Achievement Program, recognizing that rural schools lacked the resources to compete with their urban and suburban counterparts for competitive grants. The program is the only dedicated federal funding stream for rural school districts, lawmakers said.
“Rural districts have budgeted for these resources, and the administration has given no consideration to how they will be impacted by this immediate cut to their funding,” said Sasha Pudelski, the advocacy director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association.
In Oklahoma, which will see the number of eligible schools cut nearly in half, Matt Holder, the superintendent of Sulphur Public Schools, said the $30,000 cut to his 1,500-student district would cost him a reading specialist in his elementary school.
In a district where 60 percent of students live in poverty, literacy is a ladder to opportunity, he said. “It’s important for us to have someone on staff to work with these students and get them where they need to be,” Mr. Holder said. “I feel like we’re cutting from the most vulnerable.”
Chuck McCauley, the superintendent of the 6,000-student Bartlesville Public Schools in Oklahoma, said the district has tapped more than $100,000 per year for the past three years from the program to equip its students and teachers with computers.