OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma's rural public schools are underfunded and produce some of the worst achievement outcomes in the country, according to a national report issued Tuesday.
The report, by The Rural School and Community Trust, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit organization, said Oklahoma ranks fifth in need of rural education attention and improvement. It also said the state has the nation's lowest rural instructional expenditures per student and the nation's fourth-lowest instructional salaries.
According to the study, called “Why Rural Matters 2007,” 48.4 percent of Oklahoma's public schools are located in rural areas, and the 214,306 students enrolled in those schools account for 34.3 percent of the state's public-school enrollment.
Of those rural students, 36.2 percent are minorities, well above the national average of 22.9 percent. Oklahoma has had a 56.2 percent increase in rural minority students during the past 10 years, the report said.
The study said 57.2 percent of Oklahoma's rural students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, the fourth-highest percentage in the U.S. The national average is 38.5 percent.
A spokeswoman for State Superintendent Sandy Garrett did not respond to a request by The Associated Press for comment on the study.
“Rural education is evolving and growing,” said Rachel B. Tompkins, the president of The Rural School and Community Trust. “It is time for action - not just acknowledgment - that rural schools need help. Teachers need better pay, students deserve equal access to academic supports and schools need the fiscal resources to make investments to improve the quality of education within rural communities and states.”
The report noted Oklahoma spends an average of $3,591 per rural student, about three-fourths of the national average of $4,701.
Seven other states spend less than $4,000 per rural student -Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.
The average salary expenditure per instructional staff member in Oklahoma is $38,273, according to the study.
The study said that on the National Assessment of Educational Progress - which was administered to about 2,800 fourth- and eighth-graders in Oklahoma between January and March of this year - the state's rural math and reading scores both were among the worst 11 in the U.S.
Oklahoma's rural high school graduation rate is 87.2 percent.
The study listed Oklahoma among 13 high-priority states in which rural education needs significant improvement. The others are Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.
State Rep. Tad Jones, R-Claremore, the chairman of the House's Education Committee, said he was not familiar with the report but that rural education in Oklahoma is “obviously very important.” He said the state has one of the most respected school-funding formulas in the nation that helps to balance out funding for wealthy and poor districts.