Rural Community Alliance's annual conference was held Saturday, July 19 at Ozark Heritage Arts Center & Museum in Leslie with over 100 members present. Events included a narrated walking tour of Leslie to see the town's impressive revitalization efforts, presentations by Paron 4-H youth, a session to set RCA's policy agenda for the coming year, and a performance by the Fish Hook Theater of Elaine. Read more about it in the August Newsletter
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This opinion piece by Danielle Brown of Kirby says it well…
(Reprinted from Arkansas Democrat Gazette – April 18, 2014 publication date)
Our schools in peril
Act 60 hurts rural communities
SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Another rural school district was dealt the death blow last Thursday.
The State Board of Education was tasked with complying with Act 60 and determining the fate of Stephens School District. The Ouachita County school’s K-12 enrollment had fallen below 350 students in two consecutive years. The state board voted to split the district among three adjacent districts, removing virtually all hope that the school campus will remain open.
Earlier in the day, the state board approved the closure of Cotton Plant K-3 School, which will result in busing its youngest to Augusta, 28 miles away. Cotton Plant (Woodruff County) had a K-12 school prior to Act 60 consolidation with Augusta School District in 2004.
A lawyer for the three receiving school districts who presented the plan for starbursting the Stephens School District stated that closing Stephens would have the positive effect of removing a “racially identifiable” school.
If the goal of Act 60 was closing racially identifiable schools, it has been successful beyond measure. Gone are most predominantly black schools across southern Arkansas and in the Delta. Yet throughout the region are towns and communities that are racially identifiable. Why shouldn’t these and all communities have the right to keep the schools that have served their children for generations?
A report done by The Rural School and Community Trust in 2005, just one year after Act 60 took place, found that the number of black superintendents in Arkansas fell by 23 percent, and black board representation fell by 55 percent immediately after enactment of Act 60.
With many more subsequent school closures, these losses have likely increased over the intervening nine years.
Though especially onerous to majority black schools, Act 60 has resulted in closure of majority white schools as well. Most Arkansans have heard of the heroic efforts by Friends of Weiner in Poinsett County to save their school, yet the last Weiner School District diplomas were awarded in 2013.
School campuses with almost new buildings, including Fourche Valley in Yell County and Delaplaine in Greene County, are among many that were shuttered. The empty buildings are a painful reminder of Act 60’s impact.
Stephens’ attorney, Clay Fendley, raised the issue of excessive bus rides and that the Legislature has asked three times that a study be done on the impact on children. Yet to date, such a study has not been done.
With advances in technology, a quality education can be had at any location, especially in rural places. An act funded in the 2014 session will bring more broadband capabilities to rural schools. State Sen. Joyce Elliott’s Schools of Innovation Act provides an avenue for schools to develop creative and innovative ways to educate students, another good development for rural schools.
In the 2013 legislative session, Rep. Randy Alexander sponsored a bill to place a two-year moratorium on school closures until the impact on students could be studied. The bill came just two votes short of passing on the House floor and was referred to an interim study which will be completed before the 2015 legislative session.
Ten years after enactment of Act 60, the damage to rural Arkansas, its youngest residents and their families cannot be denied.
Gone are 41 elementary schools and 52 high schools, and left behind are decimated communities.
A new Facebook page memorializing the schools closed due to Act 60, and supporting Arkansas’ remaining rural schools and the repeal of Act 60, can be found at www.facebook.com/ arkansasruralschools.
It’s time, Arkansas. Let’s stop the self-imposed bludgeoning of rural Arkansas.
It’s time to repeal Act 60.
Renee Carr is executive director of the Rural Community Alliance.
RCA President Lavina Grandon was the keynote speaker at the First Annual Searcy County Chamber of Commerce banquet and awards ceremony on February 27. The theme of the banquet was “175 Years….Looking Back….Moving Forward.” Grandon shared with the group of about 130 Chamber members and guests her vision for a thriving and prosperous rural Arkansas, and commended the Chamber for its visionary, proactive, inclusive approach to economic development in the county. Marshall, the county seat of Searcy County, is RCA’s latest chapter and the latest member of the Ozark Byways revitalization network. Other Searcy County communities Leslie and St. Joe have been working with RCA since 2008 and 2009, respectively.
The Fish Hook Theater is taking the show on the road to Brinkley Convention Center on March 15. You get a dinner and a play for only $7. Dinner starts at 4pm with play immediately following. Click below for ticket information.
Now businesses can become members of Rural Community Alliance and support the work we do in revitalizing rural communities, supporting rural schools, and state-wide policy work. A business member form is available at the bottom of our home page. Business dues are $75 every two years. Here are two of the latest business/civic groups who’ve joined RCA.
PBS characters Clifford, Cat in the Hat, and Arthur were on hand to get the students revved up for Eudora Reads! Former Eudora student Tony Washington emceed the event and Cathy Nash welcomed the visitors and described the cool things in store for Eudora’s students and preschoolers. Eudora is proud to be part of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading!
Parent Engagement is one of four targets of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The following list of 68 ideas is a wonderful guide and even a great starting point for having discussions about parent engagement and then moving on to action!
Click on the link below for Rural Community Alliance’s October e-newsletter with reports on rural entrepreneurs including a young fashion designer, a natural soap company, and an upscale candle company. Also included is an article about Leslie’s Mountain Man Rendezvous.