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News Brief

Jan. 10, 2024 |  By: Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

Where's the money for rural Missouri education?


By Farah Siddiqi - Public News Service

Nearly half of Missouri's public schools are in rural areas, and they serve more than one in five of the Show-Me State's students. But Missouri spends less than $6,000 dollars per rural pupil, which is only 81% of the rural U.S. average.

The National Rural Education Association's latest report, "Why Rural Matters 2023," finds Missouri is a critical state, due mostly to funding for students and a shortage of teachers because of low salaries.

Allen Pratt, National Rural Education Association executive director, said it's vital for the state legislative policy to change what he thinks is wrong with rural instructional expenditures -- but also to focus on what's going right.

"They have a good number of students enrolled in public preschool. It's rural enrollment in public preschool; that's a positive," said Pratt. "I think they ranked 41st, which is in our inverse rating. That's in the top 10. They're close to it."

The NREA report also highlights that students in rural districts are more likely to graduate high school than their non-rural counterparts.

Despite facing a range of spatial inequities, the unique strengths of rural areas -- such as smaller schools and close community ties -- create graduation advantages. Pratt thinks those connections are why rural communities are so important.

Missouri State University has piloted a program to help with teacher shortages across the state, that such other states as Tennessee have also followed. The Pathways for Paras Project is a federally registered apprenticeship program that helps para-educators and teacher assistants retain their jobs in schools, while fast-tracking them toward completing a four-year teaching degree.

Pratt said he sees the difficulty in Missouri's rural education as a workforce development issue.

"Looking at teacher shortages in general, any way we can widen the pool of applicants, or go at different populations that we've not been targeting as potential teachers -- that's always going to help the numbers," Pratt continued.

The MSU Pathways for Paras program allows students to earn a salary while also earning their degree. Paras earn college credit for practicum and student teaching on-the-job. The program has a 100% online option as well.