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ACEF Journal Vol 3 Issue 1 December 2012

Educational Equity in Rural Schools State policies should also be made to encourage school districts to take advantage of extra space in their buildings to offer special programs that could attract more students from surrounding school districts. Special programs can be those that other schools do not offer, such as a variety of special education programs (behavior support, anger management, emotional support, life skills). Generally, smaller districts are not able to offer these programs and any district offering these courses can charge tuition and a fee to those districts that will send students to the host districts. These schools alone would not have enough students to offer these programs, but together, one school can group students from several school districts and provide classroom space for these special programs. Other such special programs could be pre- kindergarten. This includes renting space to a pre-school or to a special tutoring assistance program run by private groups who need space and are willing to go where the students are located. Extra space in the school could provide opportunities for new and/or additional sources of funds for financing building improvements. Schaefer (2010) notes that elementary schools already in existence are being transformed for the purpose of serving the greater community. Policy makers should encourage and regulate under-utilized schools to offer more after-school programs and weekend activities to establish stronger relationships with the community, and to make rural schools the true centers of the community. The community leaders could also be encouraged by policies to take advantage of the school facility as a community asset. Certain state plans should be made to promote local communities to work with school districts in terms of looking for ways to utilize the school facilities and creatively support or finance the shared programs such as adult education, job training, technology training, and health fitness centers, in order to make the school buildings become community centers as well. The regulated plans could include formal and informal gatherings among the community members, lectures, town hall meetings, banquets, and celebrations, according to Schaefer (2010). While a majority of schools in the West and Central Pennsylvania will be severely under- enrolled, about 10% of schools in the East will be more likely to be severely over-crowded (enrollments that will be more than 25% greater than their capacity). To effectively utilize the school building facilities, state policy makers should drive school district administrators and community leaders to work together. Parents and community leaders know their children’s needs better than outside architects ever could. Involving the community in school building planning is a good way to build public support for school building improvement plans. Taxpayers who pay the bill for school improvements should know how their money is to be spent. Understand the changing face of student learning environments and future building needs. Another issue that makes it important for state policy makers to prepare for future needs is the changing face of student learning environments. As our study results indicate, many rural schools appeared to be under-utilized; however, state policy makers and school district administrators should be aware that the designed school building capacity might overestimate the ability the school building could allow in the “real world.” School buildings’ legal capacity is oftentimes breached or under-utilized which is usually not permitted in other “real world” venues. School events create cases when there may be more students in the designed building than actually allowed under current building capacity codes. For example, a school’s auditorium has a capacity set by the Department of Labor and Industry for 600 but for special events, the auditorium seated over 700 with additional seating. The flip side is also true. Due to declining enrollments in rural schools, the original building may have been built for 1000 but there may December 2012 / ACEF 32


ACEF Journal Vol 3 Issue 1 December 2012
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