Fair education policies for rural schools – Rural Community Alliance was formed to champion rural schools and bring together the collective voices of rural Arkansans who had not been heard…a grassroots movement was born. Our first fight was to stop school consolidation which efforts initially saved over 175 school districts. The second victory came after ten years. Over this time our members and staff hammered away and kept the issue in front of our legislators and governors. In March 2015 a bill for a waiver from Act 60, Arkansas’ school consolidation law was passed. There is still more work to do on this onerous Issue of shuttering schools and bussing students miles and miles from home. RCA is committed to continue the fight. Over the past decade RCA has championed many other issues to benefit rural schools including distance learning, increased broadband capabilities, funding for Pre-K education, after school programs, and English language learners, preserving isolated funding, and correcting the Federal Title I formula that is skewed to benefit larger schools to the detriment of nearly all public schools in Arkansas.
Rural economic and community development – In 2008 Rural Community Alliance began to focus much of its work on revitalizing rural communities. RCA supports the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s initiative, Moving the Needle from Poverty to Prosperity in Arkansas. Loss of population in rural communities has a domino effect of decreasing enrollment in schools and diminishing the ability of businesses to thrive. The result has been shuttered buildings on main streets and declining vitality. RCA chapters first look at community development issues. Community cleanup and beautification projects by volunteers and municipalities have helped developed the social capacity to tackle larger issues. RCA has facilitated revitalization projects in over 20 communities and launched two revitalization networks, Ozark Byways and Delta Highways, to help communities collaborate with one another. With RCA’s guidance towns that had not had grants in years began to go after resources to improve their towns. Businesses on main street caught the vision and made their buildings attractive. RCA promotes entrepreneurship as the best means to revitalize rural towns. Recently RCA became involved in the Farm to School program which provides equipment for farmers using new techniques to expand the growing season on both ends and provide fresh foods to school cafeterias. An unreasonably high % of the food served in Arkansas’ school cafeterias comes from outside the state. By improving this situation, students benefit from better taste and nutrition while local farmers also gain a needed customer and increased prosperity.
Rural services – Rural Community Alliance has been at the forefront of several campaigns to improve, expand, and maintain rural services. In 2011 our grass roots mobilization of rural Arkansans to fight the closure of 179 post offices garnered national attention with stories published by the New York Times and Seattle-based Equal Voice News. An advocacy campaign to secure more affordable and faster fiber optic internet for public schools brought awareness across the state and a decision by the governor to require competitive bids by providers to address the issue. More recent issues have included rural health services including health insurance and assisting with a study of the effect of long bus rides on children’s health.
Arkansas Grade-Level Reading Campaign
Rural Community Alliance partners with the Arkansas Grade-Level Reading Campaign to work toward the goal of every child reading on grade level by the end of third grade. If a student falls behind in early grades, he may never catch up. RCA uses community solutions and state-wide advocacy to call attention to and focus efforts on early childhood literacy for all children as a stepping stone to education success. RCA facilitates the Community Solutions Initiative in Eudora. More about the Arkansas Grade-Level Reading Campaign can be found at www.ar-glr.net
Opportunity to Learn Campaign
The Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign is a coalition of statewide organizations, community leaders, parents, students, educators, policy makers and others who are committed to public education in Arkansas and dedicated to ensuring every child an opportunity for a good education. In order for all of Arkansas to prosper, we must make sure that all children, no matter where they live, are educated to their highest ability and given the tools to live useful, prosperous lives. This is why Rural Community Alliance has been a part of the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign since 2010. Opportunity to Learn is about closing opportunity gaps that lead to achievement gaps that result in some children receiving less than our best and less than they deserve in education outcomes. To learn more visit www.arkansasotl.org
ForwARd Arkansas Strategic Plan for Education
ForwARd Arkansas is a partnership of education, business, government and civil society leaders committed to improving public education in the state by encouraging statewide discussion and making recommendations to ensure that all Arkansas students have access to the tools they need to succeed now and in the future. Rural Community Alliance has aided in stakeholder engagement, conducted focus groups, and participated in statewide discussion to develop a holistic plan to strengthen public education. For more information about the P-16 plan for public education, how it was develop, and how it is being implemented, visit www.forwardarkansas.org.