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This document is part of AASA’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) implementation resources. The full set of resources is available at aasa.org/AASAESSA.aspx.

Rural Education: An Overview of Rural Education in the Every Student Succeeds Act

Over half of our nation’s school districts are in rural areas, educating a diverse population often in remote and far-reaching areas. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) improves the treatment of rural schools over previous iterations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP)

ESSA, as a whole, includes significant program consolidation and elimination. One of the smaller stand-alone programs to carry through is REAP. Originally signed into law in Title VI of NCLB, this AASA-created program is in Title V of ESSA. The program includes three key updates:

  1. Update of locale codes: REAP was updated to include the new locale codes that have been developed by the Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Locale codes determine which districts are considered rural, and determine part of the eligibility requirement for both REAP and the Small and Rural Schools Achievement Program (SRSA). These locale codes are more accurate and have been phased in as various rural programs are reauthorized across all federal agencies.
  2. Adjustment in the sliding scale: ESSA updates the sliding formula from NCLB’s $20,000 to $60,000 to a new scale of $25,000 to $80,000. Under the NCLB maximum and minimums, many districts found that their REAP grant amounts were fully offset by Title funds. ESSA’s higher minimum and maximum grants could help rural districts better meet their needs.
  3. Flexibility in the program: Under NCLB, if a district is eligible for both REAP and SRSA, they were automatically enrolled in SRSA. Under ESSA, districts eligible for both programs but not receiving additional funding under the SRSA can apply under the Rural and Low-Income Schools Program.

U.S. Education Department Rural Study

ESSA requires the U.S. Education Department to conduct a study of how the Department is incorporating the unique needs and characteristics of rural schools. The Department has to ”assess the methods and manner through which [they]…take into account, consider input from and address the unique needs and characteristics of rural schools and rural local education agencies.” The report must also determine actions the Department can take to meaningfully increase the consideration and participation of rural schools/districts in the development and execution of USED’s processes, policies and regulations. The report must be completed within 18 months of ESSA being signed into law, and the report must be made available to the Senate and House education committees.

Rural Consolidated Plan

Under this provision, and school or district that qualifies for REAP may submit a consolidated plan. More succinctly, this allows rural schools, districts or educational service agencies to submit plans or applications for one or more covered programs to the State Education Agency on a consolidated basis. This flexibility will help streamline the ESSA paperwork/administrative burden for rural schools.