SRI Authors: Rebecca A. Schmidt, Kyra N. Caspary, Deborah L. Jonas
Schmidt, R. A., Caspary, K., & Jonas, D. (2016). Study of experiences and needs of Rural Education Achievement Program grantees. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies.
Nationally, 28 percent of all public elementary and secondary schools were in rural locations in 2013–14, serving 18 percent of all K–12 students (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 2015). Rural schools serve students in sparsely populated areas and have smaller overall populations than schools in other communities. Rural school districts often face unique challenges such as geographic isolation, shortages of qualified educators, and underdeveloped infrastructure, including technology systems (Consortium for School Networking 2016; Porowski and Howley 2013).
Congress established the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) to provide flexible funding to help rural districts address these challenges and serve students more effectively.1 REAP is composed of two programs: the Small, Rural School Achievement (SRSA) program and the Rural and Low-Income School (RLIS) program. Of the two programs, SRSA supports smaller and more isolated districts, and it provides additional funding and the opportunity for these districts to exercise “REAP-Flex” authority. REAP-Flex allows SRSA-eligible districts to use certain specific federal formula funds to support local activities under an array of other federal formula programs to assist them in addressing local academic needs more effectively. 2 RLIS serves rural districts that are generally slightly larger but have substantial concentrations of poverty, and it provides additional funding only, not the authority to exercise REAPFlex.
The U.S. Department of Education (the Department) awards SRSA grants directly to eligible districts on the basis of a statutory formula, whereas the Department provides RLIS formula allocations to state education agencies, which in turn make subgrants to eligible districts, either by formula or by competition.
This study’s objective was to examine state and district practices and perspectives regarding REAP: the roles states and districts play in verifying the accuracy of the data used to determine district eligibility for REAP funds, how districts use REAP funds and REAP-Flex, and states’ and districts’ recommendations for improving program operations. We note that this report is not intended to reflect best practices. It describes conditions as they existed at the time of data collection, but the inclusion of a description of state or district practices does not necessarily mean that all practices comply with the law governing REAP, nor that the Department approves all practices described. In addition, some challenges and grantee recommendations iscussed in this report are in response to provisions set by statute and/or controlled by Congress which are outside the authority of the Department to address.