Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) led a letter that was signed by 20 of their colleagues, expressing their strong opposition to an abrupt decision by the Department of Education that jeopardizes funding eligibility for more than 800 rural, low-income schools. In their letter to Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Senators objected to the Department’s abrupt change to the methodology that determines which rural schools are eligible for funding through the Rural Low-Income Schools (RLIS) program. The change is being implemented without notice to Congress and after funding for fiscal year (FY) 2020 has already been appropriated.
“Since 2002, rural schools across the nation have relied on these additional flexible funds to purchase supplies and make technology upgrades; expand curricular offerings, such as in reading, physical education, music, and art; provide distance learning opportunities; fund transportation; and support professional development activities,” the Senators wrote. “Without any chance to prepare, this abrupt change in RLIS eligibility will force many rural schools districts to forgo essential activities and services.”
“The Department’s decision has created a funding cliff for hundreds of rural, low-income schools that are already balancing tight budgets,” the Senators continued. “REAP helps deliver an equitable and enriching education to thousands of students living in rural America. We strongly encourage you to rescind this new interpretation and to work with Congress to serve students in rural communities.”
The Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), authored by Senator Collins and former Senator Kent Conrad in 2002, is the only dedicated federal funding stream to help rural schools overcome the increased expenses caused by geographic isolation. It consists of two programs – the RLIS program and the Small, Rural School Achievement (SRSA) 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. Although free lunch data is an important measure of poverty for rural districts, this year, the Department decided that it will no longer allow states to use this data to determine eligibility for the RLIS program.
This after-the-fact change places RLIS grantees in jeopardy and will put additional strain on the SRSA program. School districts that, previously, may have been eligible to choose either SRSA or RLIS may find themselves only eligible for SRSA, which are likely to reduce the value of awards in that crucial program.
In Maine alone, 149 schools that were eligible for RLIS program funding last year. If the Department of Education fails to rescind this decision, Maine schools stand to lose a total of $1.2 million in RLIS funding. Senator Collins first raised this problem with Secretary DeVos in February. Senator Collins and members of the Maine Delegation recently sent a follow-up letter to Secretary DeVos urging her to restore this vital funding.
Senators Collins and Hassan’s letter was signed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jon Tester (D-MT), Steve Daines (R-MT), Angus King (I-ME), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Todd Young (R-IN), Mark Warner (D-VA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Joni Ernst (R-IA), James Lankford (R-OK), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Mike Braun (R-IN), and John Cornyn (R-TX).
Click HERE to read the full letter.