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REAP Reauthorization Still Under Negotiation

Legislation to reauthorize the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) is still under negotiation, according to Senate staff members. Legislation before both the Senate and the House of Representatives would make improvements in the program and ensure that participating school districts are accurately identified. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Kent Conrad of North Dakota introduced the reauthorization, S2051, in the Senate and Reps. John R. Kuhl of New York and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota introduced HR 3545, an identical bill, in the House.

Thousands of rural districts have received more than $837 million in REAP funds since its creation in 2002 and it is the only federal funding stream for rural schools districts that is dedicated to overcoming the challenges of geographic isolation. It is designed to help level the playing field for small and high poverty rural school systems.

One important change will allow eligible districts that do not receive funds under the Small Rural Schools Program to participate in the Rural Low Income Schools Program. Some 200 schools eligible for the Small and Rural Schools Achievement Program do not receive a financial award due to their current levels of federal funding. If so, they then would be eligible to apply for funding under the Rural and Low-Income Schools Program.

Many districts do not receive REAP funding because of the minimum and maximum grant amounts of $20,000 to $60,000. Under the reauthorization bills the minimum grants would be $25,000 with the maximum grant set at $80,000. In addition, it will help school districts with populations of 450 to 600 students take full advantage of the sliding scale.

The reauthorization bill also updates REAP to utilize the new locale codes that have been developed by the Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics to determine eligibility. Considered to be more accurate, the new locale codes are being phased in as federal programs are reauthorized. The new codes are 32 (distant town), 33 (remote town), 41 (fringe rural), 42 (distant rural) and 43 (remote rural). These replace previous codes 6, 7, and 8.

Because the current use of census poverty is considered by the Census Bureau to be a poor measure for areas with a population of less than 20,000, the reauthorization bills change the poverty eligibility to 40 percent of students eligible for free and reduced lunches

The program changes will require full funding at $200 million, an increase from the current $189 million. However, Senators Richard Burr of North Carolina and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire have introduced S 1775 which would change the Small and Rural Schools Achievement Program into a state formula grant and would rewrite the formula and change it into a per-pupil allocation. In doing so, they would undermine the original purposes of the program and make it easier to reduce funding..