Variety is the spice of life, and policymakers created charter schools to inject a bit of pluralism into the K-12 space. Sadly, a combination of factors, including a lack of population density and poorly crafted charter school laws, have led to a lower rate of charter schools operating in rural areas.
Figure 1 calculates the number of rural residents per rural charter school in states with one or more rural charter schools. The lower the number, the better. Note that there are some states not included in the table because they don’t have a single rural charter school.
Shhh! Someone was sneaky in both Ohio and New York and opened a single rural charter school. I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.
It’s not clear to me if Alabama’s charter law is biased against rural charter schools, because it seems biased against opening charter schools at all given that there are four statewide. The same goes for Virginia with eight charters statewide after passage of a charter law in 1998.
Many of the top states in Figure 1 have large charter sectors, they just discriminate against non-urban school. If you are in the Top 10 in Figure 1, there is a good chance that your state’s laws or practices have some sort of bias against opening rural charter schools.
Last year, Ohio legislators removed geographic restrictions on charter schools. Two different national charter organizations have ranked Indiana’s law tops in the nation for many years running. That, alas, is not of much use to rural students in Indiana.
Indiana lawmakers discriminating against rural communities is a bit like the National Basketball Association discriminating against tall people. More telling, Indiana’s top ranking speaks to a deep conceptual confusion about what constitutes a desirable charter school law.
Micro-schools, charter and otherwise, seem like a golden opportunity to diversify rural schooling. The one-room schoolhouse is making a comeback, and rural students and educators have much to gain from the process.