NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Rural Schools Being Short-Changed?

June 2, 1999

At a time when school construction is booming across the nation, rural districts are half as likely as their urban and suburban counterparts to build new facilities. So concludes an analysis by USA Today.

  • From January 1994 to June 1998, some 21 percent of school districts located inside metropolitan areas built at least one new school -- versus only 9 percent of districts outside metropolitan areas.
  • Limiting the survey to the nation's fastest growing school districts, 34 percent of those in metro areas built one or more new school -- compared to 11 percent in fast-growth non-metro areas.
  • From 1991 to 1995, student enrollments grew 8 percent in urban areas -- versus 5 percent in all others.
  • Experts point out that rural school districts have a lower tax base than those in cities -- where concentrations of businesses help pay for new schools, whose average cost is about $8.8 million.

Construction funding is traditionally a school district's responsibility, although some states do channel lottery dollars or sales taxes to rural schools.

School construction slowed considerably during the 1970s and the early 1980s as the last of the baby boomers made their way toward graduation. Then that generation started producing children, known as "echo boomers," and construction climbed again.

  • As the 1960s drew to a close, new school construction amounted to 104.5 million square feet -- a figure which bottomed out at 21.7 million square feet around 1982.
  • As the children of the echo boom started kindergarten that year, construction again began to surge -- reaching 86.4 million square feet by the mid-1990s.

Sources: Anthony DeBarros and Tamara Henry, "Rural Schools Left Wanting," and "Urban Schools Redevelop Pride," both USA Today, June 2, 1999.


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