My hometown has a population of about 5,000 people, and it is the largest town in my county. There were almost 450 students in my high school, and the surrounding schools had fewer students and were located in much more rural areas, some literally in the middle of a cornfield. Many of these schools were, and still are, struggling to balance budgets, recruit quality teachers, and provide resources for students to prepare them for what's next in life.

Struggling rural schools and the challenges they face is what Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) may have had in mind when he introduced the Office of Rural Education Policy Act on the Senate floor just over two weeks ago. It would establish a permanent Office of Rural Education Policy within the existing Department of Education. The Office would work to ensure that rural students receive the attention and means to succeed. View the full text of the bill here. (

Quoted in the bill, the National Center for Education Statistics publishes a great deal of data about rural education, confirming that it is difficult for rural and small-town (towns with a population less than 25,000) schools to recruit teachers. Teachers in these school districts are paid less; about $7,000 less per year than their city counterparts, and many positions in rural schools remain vacant. Students in rural schools also have the lowest number of instructional computers available and the highest ratio of students to computers with internet access. Rural students are the minority in all but three states. But, rural schools generally have low student-to-teacher ratios, and teachers rank parent involvement in rural and small-town schools the highest of all demographics.

I, and the many people in the dairy industry who graduated from small-town and rural high schools, value the way we were educated, but we can't deny that many rural schools are struggling. Having people dedicated to maintaining rural schools will not only improve rural school districts, but the surrounding communities and industries, as well.