Why Rural Matters 2023: Centering Equity and Opportunity

Executive Summary: While the entire United States is still reeling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recovery process has not been even across communities. Many rural communities— especially certain pockets—are currently facing multiple crises in terms of educational loss, economic outcomes, unemployment, and mental health. Any issue that impacts rural families and communities extends inevitably to rural children, and so this larger picture signals the importance of including in educational discourse all aspects of a student’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Attentive to these realities, this report looks critically at how educational supports and resources for student well-being are being distributed, casting light on which of our rural children are most in need of additional support.

Why Rural Matters 2023, the latest in a series of 10 such reports, shows that roughly 7.3 million public school students are enrolled in rural school districts—more than one in every seven students across the United States. Nearly one in seven of those rural students experience poverty, one in 15 lacks health insurance, and one in ten has changed residence in the previous 12 months.

Significantly, the number of children attending rural schools is greater than the number of students in rural school districts because many children attend rural schools in districts that are not designated “rural” by the U.S. Census Bureau. Hence, a more representative measure of rural students in the United States is over 9.5 million—more than one in five students in the United States. This means that more students in the United States attend rural schools than attend the 100 largest U.S. school districts combined.

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