The U.S. Department of Education has halted a change to the methodology used to determine which rural schools are eligible for funding through the Rural Low-Income Schools program, a decision that will protect funding for more than 100 rural schools in Maine.

The proposed cuts would have affected more than 800 rural low-income schools nationwide, according to a news release issued Wednesday by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire. Collins and Hassan were among more than 20 senators who signed onto a letter earlier Wednesday urging the department to reverse the funding changes.

The senators’  letter was presented to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and was signed by members of both parties as well as  Sen. Angus King, an independent representing Maine. Maine schools stood to lose about $1.2 million in federal funding if the changes had been implemented.

“The Department of Education made the right decision. We are pleased that the department listened to the bipartisan opposition to this misguided change,” Collins and Hassan said in a joint statement. “Had it not, more than 800 rural, low-income schools could have lost crucial funding and been forced to forgo essential activities and services, such as technology upgrades and expanded class offerings for reading, physical education, art, music and distance learning.”

Collins, King and their colleagues in the Senate argued that the proposed funding change was too abrupt – Congress was not notified – and would force rural schools to end essential activities and services.

“The department’s decision has created a funding cliff for hundreds of rural, low-income schools that are already balancing tight budgets,” the senators wrote in their letter to DeVos.

The Rural Education Achievement Program, which was authored by Collins and former Sen. Kent Conrad in 2002, is the only dedicated federal funding to help rural schools overcome the increased expenses caused by geographic isolation. In the past, states have qualified for funding because the Department of Education has allowed school districts to measure poverty by the percentage of students receiving free lunch.

The Department of Education had decided this year that it would no longer allow states to use this data to determine funding eligibility.


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