A New Deal for Rural Education

American public schools are an essential institution to be celebrated as a success of our democracy. One only need walk into one of our exceptional elementary, middle, high school or college to see human potential flourish. Education is also an indispensable form of ‘capital’ for both the community and individual.

Schools are often a mirror of their community and society, and at times schools are asked to solve the problems that have roots elsewhere. Oregon has made efforts at better funding and providing access for all levels with the Student Success Act and programs like Oregon Promise and Klamath Promise. This goes in the right direction in lowering barriers, and providing all the occupations society needs and the dignified work Oregonians deserve. It is time to apply these important policy principles to structural change and access, especially in rural areas questions of access are often talked about in terms of how urban areas can ‘provide for’ rather than how we can help rural areas ‘create.’

Unfortunately, nationally and statewide, we have underinvested in public schools and staff from the pre-k to university. The Covid-19 pandemic upset many efforts in schools, and both revealed many structural issues in society, and demonstrated the capabilities and dedication of students and staff. It’s at these times that public institutions need even greater support, upholding the pillars of our society. We see investments in education as a mirror of investment in wealth in rural areas.

Building off the great work of the Palcic “Rise” plan, past candidates, organizers, educational researchers and professional educators, as well as efforts behind the Green New Deal for Public Schools, A New Deal for Rural Education is built on these principles and goals: 

(“Circle of Courage” –

  1. Make public education free from pre-k to “grade 16th” (university):
    1. Reevaluate state spending for rural areas to consider unique logistical needs, and advocate for the federal government to rethink how we fund education – lowering the regressive tax burden on states and middle-class property owners.
  2. A Green New Deal for Rural Schools – Renovate, reconstruct and build a new school in rural areas and areas of need every five years. 
  3. Invest in classified staff: Too many classified staff (custodial, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and SPED staff) are underpaid. A minimum wage of $17 should be the standard.
  4. Invest in students: Research shows poverty as being a core component inhibiting the success of too many students. Policy-making through an equity lens, taking into account geographic dynamics, healthy meals and snacks, and mental health supports are needed now.
  5. Power to teachers unions: Teachers unions, and other public sector unions, are models for building power across the private sector as well. The direct ties to students enable teachers to see their needs and their own working needs up close. Our New Deal for Rural Labor is embedded in these principles. 
    1. Support academic and curricular autonomy; work toward lowered and reasonable class size (state support of locally determined need), and teacher recruitment for rural areas.
  6. Rethinking success in education: We know more today than 50 or 100 years ago about what makes a successful learner in the classroom. Help in moving away from punishing standardized tests to diagnostic testing; and provide districts the opportunity to greater individualize curriculum and reimagining the class load for secondary students.
  7. Pacific Northwest College and Community Visit Program 
    1. Along with transportation access, bridging urban-rural experience through cultural and educational activities.
  8. Green Trades and CTE Programs. Given the needs of a 21st-century, “climate resilient” economy, we must bridge gaps between higher-ed, K-12, and skilled trades to help students leave K-12 with ready for success in meaningful technical and trade work.
  9. Fund the liberal arts and elective options in schools. 
    1. Recruit and support liberal arts and civics programs in secondary schools, and help support the availability of texts, funds, and staff for the liberal arts and unique electives.