Maine Rural Schools Worried about Education Policy

by Autumn Herring

 Schenck High School may be facing an uncertain future due to a shrinking tax base and an aging population. Education policy has been designed to deal with urban and suburban challenges. However, rural school districts, such as Schenck, are being overlooked. There is now more focus being placed on charter schools and private-school vouchers with the new administration in the White House.

For students in Schenck they have no other choice than to attend Schenck High. All the other school’s considered ‘good’ are too far away for these students to travel too. Superintendent Eric Steeves is worried that if they are forced to bus students away from Schenck they will be losing tuition money. The closest the next school district is from Schenck is over an hour away. “It depends on how it’s organized. . . . It may be up to their town to pay for that. And in this weather, it would be horrific.” Stevees states his concern during an interview.

More than half of Maine’s students attend rural schools as well as nearly 9 million of the 50 million public school students across the country. These rural schools are struggling to compete with private and charter schools because of limited housing, low pay and difficult working conditions. Rural schools in financially stable areas will remain successful. However, schools such as Schenck, held together by a poor local tax base and weak state support, will continue to struggle.


5 thoughts on “Maine Rural Schools Worried about Education Policy

  1. The recent articles that we have discussed around school choice have very much broadened my understanding of this topic. Public school discussions tend to fall into general categorizations of troubled urban schools versus more affluent suburban schools. I do not recall ever seeing rural schools mentioned. While cyber charter schools may broaden the availability of some school choice for rural students, that introduces other elements of internet connectivity and the digital divide (or, in the absence of a true digital divide, a divide between those with fast connectivity and those whose connection speeds are inadequate for schooling needs). The article also reiterated the fact that public schools lose several thousand dollars of funding when a single student chooses to attend an alternative school, often impacting small schools’ ability to remain open and viable.

    The issue of tax dollars funding religious private schools is also questionable, given the careful separation of church and state. However, federal funding for faith-based initiatives occurs in other realms, so perhaps education should not be excepted in this case, either.

    An interesting tidbit: The article also briefly mentioned private schools serving as de facto “segregation academies,” which allow white families to educate their children in non-integrated institutions. I had never heard of these and would like to learn more about them. Were they clearly marketed as such initially? Do families who choose to attend them today understand their origins?

  2. This is a tricky situation to deal with. My best guess is that internet access for areas such as rural schools in Maine need to be improved so that most of the school’s operations can take place online. If most of the school’s operations took place online then it would cut down on many aspects that create costs (physically attending the school and all the costs that creates).
    Eventually, if rural schools operated primarily on the internet; this would solve the problem of traveling on icy roads (and would allow them to take in students from the surrounding communities, which might offset the cuts they incur when students from the town decide not to go to their local school). Essentially, the schools would save money by operating online, they would fill vacant seats from the surrounding areas, and combining these two aspects might make operation costs cheap enough (and fill enough “seats”) to keep rural schools running efficiently. Maybe it is time to start changing the way schools operate instead of continuously putting Band-Aids on wounds that keep opening up. If we keep on trying to funnel money into schools that cannot sustain themselves, then maybe we should try to make them operate in a self-sustaining way that is cheaper and might make them more appealing in today’s digital age. I guess the first step would be to discover how to expand internet connectivity and speed in rural schools.

    Philip Erdman

  3. It is terrifying to think that this is happening all over the United States. A country that prides itself on higher education opportunities it is a shame that we neglect the elementary through high school education. Schools, like the one mentioned in the story, should have a seat at the table with it comes to funding. Only someone in the community, or superintendent, can truly understand the inner workings of what is going on and ways that could help solve the issues. Yes, there seems to be a declining population in the area, but what else can be done? Can there be incentives to have teachers move to this areas, similar to what they do for the inner cities? If this is something that can be looked at and Maine can help support it could bring a new pool of teachers into the community. With that hope, maybe some will stay and make a career in that area which would help with the taxes base along with the students who would be attending the schools; if they were to start a family there.

  4. Wow this article was very enlightening. I know the opioid epidemic has worsened. However, I was oblivious on how widespread it had become. And I agree with you, Rich more needs to be done. It is not enough to save these lives without any ongoing intervention to treat the addiction. And this brings me to your Advocacy Action Plan to require overdose patients to attend a one day class to at least open the door for treatment. This is a must do idea.

    Although, I must admit I’m having some difficulties with the framing of this issue. When “crack cocaine” was devastating urban and minor communities in the 1980s the users were not referred to as “victims”. They were “addicts”, drug addicts. Their behavior was criminalized with “help” coming in the form of incarceration. A guess framing is everything because even during this epidemic whites were using this drug at a higher rate than blacks.

    Finally, I am also surprised to learn from Phil that Trump was the first presidential candidate to call attention to this issue during the 2016 campaign. I am just not convinced this administration will put the money and resources to address this issue where they are needed.

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