Senators Collins and Hassan Protect Funding for Nearly 200 Rural, Low-Income School Districts

January 4, 2021 by Sean Trambley
A rural scene. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Last week, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., announced they successfully reversed a Department of Education decision that jeopardized funding for nearly 200 rural, low-income school districts. 

A provision they negotiated was included in the year-end government funding bill and signed into law. The provision prevents a funding cliff for the Rural Education Achievement Program, the only dedicated federal funding stream to support rural schools.

“The Department of Education’s abrupt change in eligibility for REAP funding would have forced many rural schools in Maine and throughout the country to forgo essential activities and services,” said Collins. “REAP helps deliver an equitable and enriching education to thousands of students living in rural America. This bipartisan provision I pushed for will ensure that students in rural communities continue to have access to these critical programs.”

REAP was created in 2002 by Sen. Collins and former Sen. Kent Conrad to help rural schools overcome the increased expenses caused by geographic isolation. It consists of two programs – the Rural and Low-Income School program and the Small, Rural School Achievement program.

Many states have qualified for RLIS because the Department of Education has allowed school districts to measure poverty by the percentage of students receiving free lunch. 

Earlier this year, however, the Department abruptly announced that it would no longer accept the poverty measurements it had received from participating states in years past, threatening the eligibility and funding for schools without any notification to Congress. 

This change would have excluded nearly 200 school districts from the RLIS program, creating a funding cliff for rural schools already balancing tight budgets.

In Maine alone, more than 100 of the 149 schools were eligible for RLIS program funding last year. Without this provision, they could have lost a total of $1.2 million in RLIS funding due to the Department of Education’s decision.  

In New Hampshire, 43 school districts received funding this year. Without this provision, more than 30 districts would have lost funding – a nearly $600,000 funding loss statewide.

“Rural schools in New Hampshire rely on this critical funding coming every year so that they can serve their students, and the bipartisan provision that Sen. Collins and I worked on will help ensure that these resources aren’t pulled out from under them,” said Hassan. “This funding is particularly important now amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has presented unprecedented challenges to remote and in-person learning.”

Collins first raised this problem with Education Secretary DeVos in February.  Additionally, Collins and members of the Maine Delegation sent a follow-up letter to DeVos urging her to restore this vital funding.  

In March, Collins and Hassan led a letter to DeVos that was signed by 19 of their colleagues, expressing their strong opposition to this abrupt decision. Following that effort, the Department announced it would delay the change and prevent these cuts from taking effect this year. 

Earlier this month, Collins and Hassan led a bipartisan letter urging the Appropriations Committee to support their request to protect state and school district participation in REAP in the government funding bill.

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