Education: The Assembly’s Common Thread
[imgbelt img=clyburn530.jpg]A documentary film follows three friends from rural Michigan to
Afghanistan and home. The Rural Assembly June 29 focused on youth and
new FCC rules that will extend broadband.
[imgcontainer left] [img:education530.jpg] [source]Shawn PoynterA discussion at Wednesday’s session on “Revitalizing the Rural Economy through Infrastructure Development” stressed how critical education is to rural econmic advancement.
4:00 p.m., June 29
The “multiple pathways” of rural youth policy
Education has been a common theme at the Assembly, echoed in many of the speeches and group meetings; common, too, since in each of these sessions, education is seen as central to every single person interested in rural and national development.
This afternoon’s conference on rural youth policy was no exception. Conducted as a communal collaboration – everyone introduced themselves by name, place, and profession and participants were free to contribute to the panel discussion – this session proved the omnipresence of education in rural policy discourse.
The range of discussion was broad.
John White of the U.S. Dept. of Education championed education reform that emphasizes “multiple pathways to college and career.” He cited progressive career programs that “not only create jobs but reinvent entire communities,” echoing previous Assembly discussions focused on sustainability and forward vision.
Charlotte Golar Richie of YouthBuild USA illuminated the importance of her organization to diverse communities. YouthBuild focuses a third of its program on rural communities and is in demand; last year 18,000 youths were unable to benefit from the organization’s initiatives because of inadequate funding.
“If we are going to talk about jobs, talk about education – it’s hard to do that without talking about money,” Richie said.
But her ultimate message was one of empowerment. “I think what we do is we really bring our cause right to [policy makers],” she said. “We can’t just wring our hands, these are our communities, our tax dollars.” She previously served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Billy Altom, delivering with the same tenacity as last night’s performance, highlighted the importance of individual involvement even for those who don’t hold public office: “[The] one thing we have the power to do is vote. We can make a difference.”
Altom’s organization, the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL), aims to serve disabled persons by getting them out of institutions and living functionally in their own homes. It is now starting to help youth “transition into the world,” demonstrating the many pathways that can be taken to address youth policy.
“Are They Less Significant?”
Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said she expects her agency to issue new rules by the end of the year that could direct new funds toward broadband extension in rural communities.
The FCC has been discussing ways that funds collected for providing phone service in rural communities could be used instead for broadband. Clyburn said those rules should be finished by the end of the year.
The FCC’s intention, Clyburn said, is to close the gap between broadband availability in rural and urban communities. The FCC issued a report in recent weeks finding that 26 million people in the U.S. still don’t have broadband access; 73% of those people live in rural areas.
Access alone, however, isn’t enough. Clyburn said there was still an “adoption gap” that needed to be addressed. She said the FCC should address those reasons that “keep fellow citizens disconnected.”
(Those reasons are largely economic. Clyburn went through the numbers: Forty percent of those families with incomes under $20,000 a year have broadband; 91% of those families with incomes above $75,000 have broadband.)
The message Clyburn sent — one not heard enough — was that size doesn’t matter. Yes, most people have broadband connections. But not everyone.
“When I hear people I respect greatly say we don’t have a significant issue here,” Clyburn said. “I say, what about the six percent that don’t have those opportunities? What about those grandparents and parents and children? Are they less significant?”
Daily Yonder’s Bill Bishop, Alex Bloedel and Shawn Poynter
covered the three days of the National Rural Assembly in St. Paul, MN, a
gathering of 300 rural advocates and national leaders June 28-30. Check the
following links for all the posts from Tuesday, Wednesday morning, Wednesday afternoon, and from Thursday morning here and here.