With a total of almost 570,000 students enrolled in rural school districts—four out of every ten students in the state—North Carolina ranks as one of the top ten most rural states. This rural student population is poorer and more diverse both racially and linguistically than that of most other states. The educational policy context is one of extremes: Funding is extremely equitable and relatively little money needs to be spent on transportation costs, but schools and districts are large, rural teachers are paid below the national average,and less money is spent instructing each rural student than in most other states. NAEP scores are low across the board, and about one in six rural students who start high school in North Carolina do not graduate.
A few days ago, The Rural School and Community Trust published their newest edition of Why Rural Matters, a 164 page document which points out the needs and priorites in rural education. I share the introduction to the North Carolina statistics above.
North Carolina is one the top ten rural states in the country. Most crucial are the poverty levels and issues of diversity. 60% of students in rural communities in North Carolina are eligible for free and reduced lunch. 40% of rural students in North Carolina are minority students. However, student mobility is low, with only 10% of students changing residence within the year. There is an 85% high school graduation rate for rural students. The report labels North Carolina as number 11 in terms of rural priority.
From a theological and ecclesial perspective, the church can do much to use this knowledge to improve the world. I see the chief concern is issues of poverty and income inequality, followed second by issues of diversity within a rural state with issues of embedded racism and xenophobia. Third, I see school funding as an issue for many rural counties.
Churches can and should partner together, with local schools, and other local agencies to begin to address these issues. In terms of income inequality, first, making sure base needs are met for students in cluding healthy and accessible meals is key. This might include providing meals, food boxes, cooking lessons, in terms of emergent and charitable care. This also involves advocacy, policy changes, and means of providing affordable, healthy, and fresh foods in abundance through the community. Advocacy around the quality and quantity of school foods. This includes school lunch programs and increasing funding and salaries for school cafeteria workers.
Another struggle is that while many rural areas offer food programs, people are unable or unwilling to come and pick up the food. This is a major struggle for many feeding programs in which I have participated.
Of course food insecurity is linked to income and issues of employment. Another issues for churches to take up in terms of job training, providing transportation to jobs, and encouraging and empowering people to seek employment. This could also involve free or pays as you go child care. There is much to learn here.
In the next few blog posts, I will write about possible options for churches in terms of food insecurity, some of employment, and a some on diversity in local communities. I will deal more openly with issues of theology and ecclesiology.