Jess Piper: Rural Schools are the Epicenters of Rural Life
Public education advocate writes on here substack about the importance of schools in rural areas.
I am a rural woman. I am a small farmer raising beef and vegetables and children in Northwest Missouri in a town of 480 people. I live in a 125 year-old farmhouse on a few acres on the Iowa border that we purchased for less than the price of a new car. I was also an American Literature teacher for sixteen years–my children are all products of rural schools. Our youngest is still in school and her class, the entire fourth grade, consists of 24 children. We are rural.
Public schools are the heart of rural Missouri.
In my state, we are 49th in funding for public schools. We don’t provide public schools with the basics–we even underfund transportation costs that schools must make up through budget cuts in other areas. Missouri funds 32% of schools budgets which means that residents must pay for the bulk of their local school expenses through property taxes, the most inequitable system where in communities like mine, paying high property tax may not be an option.
The defunding of Missouri public schools has happened over the last decade, but has been at warp speed in the last five years. The school funding formula was adjusted to lower the amount a few years back meaning we lowered the funding bar to be able to claim we met the bar. And now, even more bad news for Missouri rural schools…a voucher scheme.
In 2021, Missouri Republicans devised and signed into law a system for vouchers that will further defund public schools. This is how it works: Missouri tax payers can receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit that will pay for private school vouchers. In essence, public tax funds will be diverted to private or religious schools with no oversight or accountability for student performance. Missouri will allow folks to essentially pay their taxes directly to the private school of their choice thereby defunding public schools.