Tuesday, July 29, 2014

07/09/2014 at 6:42am

Data from National Center for Education Statistics.Rural student enrollment grew by 9.1% nationally over a three-year period, according to the methodology of the National Center for Education Statistics. Note that this mapping of "rural" districts is different from the metro/nonmetro-county definition used frequently in the Daily Yonder. NCES's "rural" definition uses Census definitions of rural, factoring in the location of individual U.S. schools and their enrollments. Under this methodology, some nonmetro counties have no rural school districts. (Interactive map.)

A flurry of news stories cropped up last year when the 2012 U.S. Census estimates led to claims that many rural counties in the U.S. are “dying.”

Although some rural areas are indeed declining in population, this figure obscures the larger overall trend: The number of students in rural school districts is steadily growing, according to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Just as important, the growing rural population comprises an increasingly rich racial composition.

Part of the reason for this contradictory story may be that the NCES uses a different definition of “rural” than the simple “metro/nonmetro” definition (see below) readers of the Daily Yonder frequently see. But there’s much more to the story than just a difference in how we define rural. The facts show that school districts located in our nation’s smallest communities are increasing the size of their enrollments and becoming more diverse.

To debunk three myths about the rural student population, this article builds on the findings of Why Rural Matters, the biennial report of the Rural School and Community Trust,

Myth #1: The rural student population in the U.S. is shrinking.

Enrollment in rural school districts isn’t in decline; it’s expanding. Why Rural Matters 2013–14 found that enrollment in rural school districts has increased since the previous edition of the report two years ago. If we increase the scope to include the newest year of data, the total enrollment in rural districts now exceeds 10.5 million students—880,000 more than there were three years earlier. The interactive map at the top of this article shows the change in rural student enrollment between 2008 and 2012 for each county.

This growth in the absolute number of rural students might seem to be simply a byproduct of the overall growth in the U.S. population. On the contrary, during the same three years that the rural student population grew, the total student enrollment in towns, suburban areas, and urban areas declined. In terms of percentages, rural enrollment increased by 9.1% while town enrollment decreased by 7.8%, suburban enrollment decreased by 1.7%, and urban enrollment decreased by 1.4%.

07/08/2014 at 6:51am

Map via the New York TimesThe Mississippi Delta, Appalachia and the greater South stand out as among the toughest places to live in this analysis by the New York Times. 

Former New York Times economics reporter Annie Lowery sets out to prompt a national conversation about rural poverty.

But instead of illuminating an economic problem, she shines the spotlight on herself.

Her New York Times Magazine article, “What’s the Matter with Eastern Kentucky,” isn’t a portrait. It’s a selfie, one that tells us much more about her own bias as part of an urban power couple (she’s married to journalist Ezra Klein) perched on the heights of national media.

Lowery’s piece appeared in the June 29 New York Times Magazine (and in an online version on June 26). This 29-year-old zoomed through Kentucky like a Roadrunner cartoon on fast forward.  From statistical analysis, she zeroed in on Eastern Kentucky as the worst of the worst of what she calls America’s “tough places.”  From here, the article takes acrobatic leaps to shaky conclusions: that public investment can do nothing to address the region’s economic problems, that population density is the key to economic success, and that rural people should move to cities, which routinely lavish jobs on floods of poor people. 

At first glance, the article looks true because it has facts. But statistics without attention to cause and effect are mere data bling.  Cause and effect matter.  History matters. 

International scholarship over the past several decades has definitively established that regions rich in natural resources tend to have a host of difficulties, like poverty, corruption, lack of public investment, and over-reliance on extractive industries, to name a few. Some call this the “resource curse,” but we tend to just say “rich land, poor people.” 

The resource curse is a distinctive path of development that creates self-reinforcing problems that make it hard for communities to jump into a different track of development.  It’s very clear from the scholarly literature that this is primarily a political problem.  Extractive industries tend to lock rural, local economies into global markets that are characterized by extreme boom and busts, and ones in which local elites can become gatekeepers to vastly greater wealth than others in their communities.  This means that local and rural economies are subject to large flows of money sloshing in, and flooding out.  This is a recipe for cronyism and corruption, and once this kind of local inequality is laid down, it becomes a political machine that is very good at grabbing new funds, including federal monies which may be designed to undo it.  (It is not surprising, for instance, that Kentucky is 10th in the nation in political corruption).  Landra Lewis aptly calls this set up the “money laundering” machine. 

07/07/2014 at 9:50am

Maine Rural Health Research Center Rural residents with private insurance are more likely to purchase high-deductible health plans (HDHP) than urban residents. The percentage of private-insurance customers with high-deductible plans are shown in red; the percentage of residents with other private insurance are shown in blue.

Rural residents are more likely to purchase high-deductible health insurance plans, which could compromise the care that some residents receive, a new study has found.

Using data from the 2007-2010 National Health Interview Survey, researchers at the University of Southern Maine found that almost 23% of rural residents purchased high-deductible plans, while only 20% of their urban counterparts did.

The more rural the county, the more likely residents were to purchase high-deductible plans, the study showed. More than a quarter of people living in rural counties that were not adjacent to a metro area had high-deductible plans.

Rural residents were more likely to purchase such plans because there is a greater concentration of the groups who prefer this type of insurance in rural areas, the study said. Nationally, people who purchase high-deductible plans tend to be white, lower income and married.

When researchers factored in the demographic differences, rural and urban areas chose high-deductible plans at about the same rate.

The study used data from before the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The act’s requirements that many residents get private insurance could cause another spike in the purchase of high-deductible plans, the study said.

“The ACA has the potential to greatly expand health insurance coverage for many rural Americans,” the study said. “However, the impact on access to health care may depend, in part, on the benefit design of the plans into which rural residents enroll.”

07/03/2014 at 6:53am

The Praha boys lay in the cemetery beside the Church of St. Mary’s Assumption

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we head into Independence Day weekend, we thought it appropriate to acknowledge the disproportionately high level of military service among rural Americans. This piece by James Moore looks at Praha, Texas, a small community southeast of Austin, which lost nine of its young men during a 12-month period in World War II. In 2008 the Daily Yonder also covered the annual Veterans Day observance in Praha.


“It gave you a part in something that you could believe in wholly and completely and in which you felt an absolute brotherhood with the others who were engaged in it. It was something that you had never known before but that you had experienced now and you gave such importance to it and the reasons for it that your own death seemed of complete unimportance; only a thing to be avoided because it would interfere with the performance of your duty.”

-- Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

They no longer exist. And even in the Texas farm country where they were boys, their names are slipping from memory. People who live among the green hills here are hardly more likely to know about Praha’s loss than the strangers who travel the dark farm-to-market roads in their pickups and minivans, taking scenic detours on their way to Houston or San Antonio. This is understandable. Being told the factual history does not make the truth about Praha more believable. A trip, however, to the church and cemetery at Praha will leave the visitor carrying away a distinctly American heartache.

Visitors traveling to Praha for Memorial Day or Veterans Day approach from the north, noticing first the stark, white steeple of the parish church, which hovers brightly over the landscape. The blacktop of FM 1295 runs south off of U.S. Highway 90, directly at the Church of St. Mary’s Assumption. Close to the cemetery, the pavement curls back deferentially to the west and infrequent traffic passes quietly, the distant hiss of wheels on asphalt insufficient to disturb the serenity of a spot many U.S. military veterans have come to view as almost holy.

Praha provides old soldiers a measurement of sorts for concepts like the price of freedom. There is, though, something incalculable, impossible to assess or even understand, about the sad history of Praha. Today, it is little more than a ghost of a town with only about two dozen residents. The New Handbook of Texas claims the population never surpassed 100 people during the 20th century. Those numbers are where the anguish begins in Praha’s tearful truth.

The curious and the proud often come here and stand in front of the nine graves in a state of near bewilderment. There, they try to comprehend how war’s bloody arm could reach this far, gather up this much life and destroy it. By the dates on their tombstones and the locales of the deaths, the Allied offensive against the Nazis, Mussolini and the Japanese is recorded in the destinies of these nine fallen farm boys. Little Praha was not protected from World War II by statistical improbabilities.

PFC Robert Bohuslav Pfc. Robert Bohuslav died Feb. 3, 1944, in Italy when a shell exploded on his position where he was dug in and fighting. Three more sons of Praha went down in France, beginning the week after D-Day. The War Department sent notices of death to the families of Pfc. Rudolph L. Barta, June 16; 1944; Pfc. George D. Pavlicek, July 7, 1944; and Pfc. Jerry B. Vaculik, July 23, 1944. In Italy, Pfc. Adolph E. Rab became a casualty of war two days after Christmas 1944. Pvt. Joseph Lev, shot in the stomach during the attack of Luzon Island, died July 24, 1944. Pfc. Anton Kresta Jr.’s life ended in that same tropical theater on Feb. 12, 1945. On Sept. 7, 1944, Pvt. Eddie Sbrusch was lost at sea in the Pacific. Nineteen days later, Pfc. Edward J. Marek died in battle at Pelelieu Island. All their lives were lost, ironically, as an Allied victory appeared inevitable.

In the space of 12 months and nine days, Praha gave up most of its youth – and nearly all of its future – to confront unimaginable forms of evil on faraway continents.

07/02/2014 at 7:10am

U.S. Census BlogA Census chart shows the sources of revenue and categories of spending for public-school funding. This  chart uses 2009-2010 national data. Dollars are expressed in billions

Every community has a cafe, tavern, gas station or other gathering spot where you can get schooled in all things local. The usual crowd may be a reliable source of information about the weather, upcoming events and aged neighbors who could use a little help. But when it comes to school finance, you might want to check their facts.

Misinformation about school funding issues spreads faster than an STD. Unfounded rumors are passed along even by smart people who have no ill intentions. And you can hardly blame someone for repeating the most reliable information at their disposal. But you might end up blaming yourself if you repeat those rumors without first finding out how much is true.

That’s not always easy. Each state has its own way of raising and allocating funding for education. There are few universal truths, and every proposal that would make the “best” use of resources for some students comes at a cost to others. In my home state of Wisconsin, a controversial school voucher program designed to benefit low-income urban students is widely seen as costing rural students to benefit private enterprise. But the problems of scarce resources and imperfect allocation are everywhere, despite the best intentions of school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and taxpayers across the country.

And there’s no way to put off decisions on rural school budget issues until everything is black-and-white and everyone is in agreement. So as voters, we have to learn how to get the most reliable information possible to make informed choices – choices that may or may not be in line with those of your family, friends and neighbors.

My own understanding of school funding issues is imperfect. But I’ve learned a few things about how to get the information I need to make decisions without alienating every one of my neighbors. I’ve had some very good role models for this. These are people who come down on both sides of the political fence. Here’s what I’ve learned from them about how to ask questions before casting a vote on school funding issues.

Find out what exactly is the ballot issue? Ballot measures are published in multiple ways before an election to give voters time to ask questions based on the specific language of the proposal. In Wisconsin, a town or village may post notices in at least three locations if there is no local newspaper, and posting can be used to supplement publication. Look on the bulletin boards at your clerk’s office, post office, school office and other gathering spots for the sample ballot notice. In Wisconsin, a referendum notice includes an explanatory statement that describes the effect of a “yes” or “no” vote.

Underline key words in the proposal. It helps me to read a proposal aloud asking myself, “Why were these specific words and phrases chosen, and what do they mean?” Then I can look them up to start to get an idea what they mean before I embarrass myself with questions that are way off base. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards provides a helpful set of definitions in its publication School Finance 101.

Take each proposal at face value. It’s hard to resist the urge to vote in response to the last election. But each time we go to the polls we vote on what’s on that ballot. That’s not to say forget about the path that led your community to a particular vote. But be clear about what the issue is at a given time – in the voting booth and in the cafe booth.

For example, at one time, school referendums were mostly used to let the community decide on a costly construction project. Now, though, more rural voters are seeing ballot measures that decide on funding for operational expenses. Operational referendums can affect whether a district can meet its day-to-day expenses, including heat, transportation and whether the district will have to cut staff. In some areas, there’s nervous talk about bankruptcy and closing when an operational referendum is on the ballot.

07/01/2014 at 7:08am

Of the 7.3 million uninsured residents who live in rural areas (middle bar), 65% live in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid. Nationally (left bar), the figure is only 52%.

Rural residents who don’t have medical insurance are disproportionately affected by state decisions not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, reports a Kaiser Family Foundation research brief.

About two-thirds of uninsured rural residents currently reside in states that have not implemented Medicaid expansion. Nationally, 52% of uninsured Americans live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid.

That means rural residents are more likely than average to live in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid.

Across the nation, 47.3 million residents lacked medical insurance in 2013, the study found. The percentage of the population that lacked insurance was about the same in both rural and urban areas, 18%.

But because uninsured rural residents are more likely to live in states that didn’t expand Medicaid coverage, they face special challenges, the study says. They are more likely to fall in the “coverage gap” – where they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for tax credits to purchase private insurance.

The study shows 15% of nonelderly rural uninsured fall in the coverage gap, while only 9% of their urban counterparts do.

06/30/2014 at 10:42am

Most of us have heard about the big legal fights in the agricultural sector over patented seeds. But unbeknownst to some, similar patent disputes are occurring over technology like our treasured smart phones. The effect on rural America could be profound.

Seventy percent of urban households, compared to 57 percent of rural households, have broadband service, according to a 2010 Department of Commerce report. As a result, a greater percentage of rural residents use smart phones and wireless to gain access to the Internet.  For many, it is their only option. The phones are their connection to government and emergency services, to education and health resources.

Ed Luttrell

So ensuring that smart phones are available and affordable is important for rural Americans.

That’s why the National Grange is concerned about a patent lawsuit that Apple Inc. filed against Samsung. A jury recently awarded Apple $399 million in damages for intellectual property violations. Samsung smart phones were infringing on several Apple patents, the court said.

The ruling said Samsung must pay Apple 100% of Samsung’s profits from the sale of the devices that infringed on Apple’s patents.

 The jury’s verdict grossly overcompensates Apple. A hypothetical example explains why.