Senator Susan Collins’s Rural Education Initiative Unanimously Approved By Senate Committee

March 14, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation authored by Senator Susan Collins to give rural schools more flexibility in their use of federal education dollars has been unanimously accepted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee. Included in the education legislation that will now go before the full Senate is $150 million to fund Senator Collins’s Rural Education Initiative that would allow small, rural school districts to combine funds from formula grant programs, giving them the flexibility to target funds toward their students’ most pressing needs.

“The unanimous approval by the Committee brings this important legislation one step closer to becoming law,” said Senator Collins. “In Maine, 56 percent of our 284 school districts have fewer than 600 students. This legislation would help them overcome some of the most challenging obstacles they face in participating in federal education programs.”

Schools receive categorical grants from the federal government, each with its own authorized activities and regulations and each with its own red tape and paperwork. These programs, however, often do not work well in rural areas. At the same time, formula grants frequently do not reach small, rural schools in amounts sufficient to achieve the goals of the programs because they are based on school district enrollment, and, therefore, smaller districts often do not receive enough funding from any single grant to carry out a meaningful activity.

“To give school districts more flexibility to meet local needs, my legislation would allow rural districts to combine the funds from four categorical programs and use them to address the school district’s highest priorities,” said Senator Collins. “Districts might use these funds to hire a new reading or math teacher, fund professional development, offer a program for gifted and talented students, or purchase computers or library books.”

In return for the flexibility and additional funding provided in the bill, participating districts would be held accountable for demonstrating improved student performance over a three-year period.

“We must improve our educational system without requiring every school to adopt a plan designed in Washington and without imposing overly burdensome and costly regulations in return for federal assistance,” said Senator Collins. “This bill would allow small, rural districts to use their own strategies for improvement without the encumbrance of onerous federal regulations and unnecessary paperwork.”

Senator Collins’s legislation has been endorsed by the American Association of School Administrators, National Rural Education Association, the Association of Educational Service Agency, and the National Education Association.