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September/October 2009

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Research Analyzes Rural School District Enrollment and Building Capacity
Shifting population trends across the U.S. and Pennsylvania are affecting school enrollment and may impact the building needs of school districts in the years to come.

To provide a perspective on the potential building capacity needs of Pennsylvania rural school districts over the next 10 years, Dr. Wenfan Yan of Indiana University of Pennsylvania surveyed rural school district administrators to develop an inventory of rural Pennsylvania school buildings. The researcher also analyzed enrollment trends for rural school districts over the next 10 years, developed a statistical model to examine future building capacity needs, and determined whether school districts will be at risk of under- or over-capacity.

The findings provide a complex portrait of Pennsylvania’s current rural school building conditions and projections of building capacity over the next 10 years.

Current building conditions
While the majority of rural school district respondents reported that their school building conditions were satisfactory, a sizable minority reported their building conditions as unsatisfactory.

The research, which was conducted in 2006-2007 and sponsored by a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, also revealed that the average age of Pennsylvania rural school buildings (44 years)  is older than the national average age of rural schools (41 years).

Fifteen percent of rural Pennsylvania schools in the survey had a functional age of 35 years or more. A building's functional age was based on the year in which the most recent renovations occurred.

Many aging rural schools have experienced problems with energy efficiency and other environmental conditions that interfere with classroom learning. None of the respondents with schools having a functional age of 35 years or more reported having excellent environmental conditions. More than 80 percent of those respondents reported their building energy efficiency condition as poor or borderline and about half reported handicap accessibility and vehicular entrances and exits as unsatisfactory.

Telecommunications
The research also looked at telecommunications readiness and compared rural schools and urban schools in terms of Internet access, computer Internet connectivity speed and computer processor capacity, and technology equipment in classrooms, labs, libraries and offices.

The research found that more than 67 percent of rural school classrooms had wired Internet access, about 2 percent had wireless access and about 30 percent had both.

In general, urban schools tended to have more computers with high speed connectivity-high capacity processors in classrooms and library/media centers than rural schools.

There was no significant difference between urban and rural schools in technology equipment, except for the higher number of printers located in urban school classrooms and labs than in rural school classrooms and labs.

Enrollment projections
Over the next 10 years, rural Pennsylvania school enrollment is projected to decrease 8 percent. The most significant enrollment decline is projected to be in western Pennsylvania, where rural school districts may have a 16 percent decline. More than 40 percent of elementary schools and more than 60 percent of secondary schools in western Pennsylvania are projected to experience significant enrollment decreases (15 percent or greater).

According to the research, more than half of rural schools will experience severe under-enrollment over the next 10 years, with more than 25 percent below capacity. The proportion of rural schools experiencing under-enrollment will differ somewhat by geographic region. Elementary and secondary schools in western and central Pennsylvania are more likely to be under-enrolled than those in the east. About 70 percent of elementary schools in the west and more than 50 percent of elementary schools in the central region will be under-enrolled. About 90 percent of secondary schools in the west and more than 80 percent of secondary schools in the central region are more likely to be under-enrolled. On the other hand, about 10 percent of elementary and secondary schools in the east are more likely to be over-crowded.

Policy considerations
Based on the findings, the researcher recommends the following policy considerations for the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and school districts:

• PDE and local school districts should consider establishing a reporting system to effectively monitor school building conditions.
• School districts should consider ways to use under-used school buildings and maximize public use of school facilities.
• PDE and school districts should consider the changing face of student learning environments to accurately assess building capacity needs.

Report available
For a copy of the research results, Rural School District Enrollment and Building Capacity – Projections for the Next 10 Years, call or email the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or info@ruralpa.org, or visit www.ruralpa.org.

Projected Change in Enrollment by Region Over the Next 10 Years


An Examination of Alternative Education Practices and Policies
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania has released the results of research that examined alternative education policies and practices among Pennsylvania school districts. The research is a follow-up to a similar study published in 2003. The current study extended the previous research to include information on the perceptions of administrators and teachers on the progress made by alternative schools to meet the federal requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It also included a financial analysis of the Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY) funding process in Pennsylvania.

To complete the study, Drs. Nathaniel S. Hosley, Jessica Hosley, and Myint Thein of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania surveyed rural and urban school administrators and teachers to describe and analyze alternative education practices in the state and to report the impact of NCLB on alternative education practices. The researchers used data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to complete a financial analysis.

According to the study results, administrators and teachers view current alternative education programs as moderately effective in improving academic performance and school attendance, changing target behaviors, assisting in the development of academic goals, and reducing dropout, truancy, and disruptive behavior among at-risk and disruptive students.

And, while both administrators and teachers suggest that academic performance improves in alternative education programs, neither group indicated that the implementation of NCLB increased math and reading scores in these programs. The most notable impact of NCLB, according to the respondents, is the increasing pressure from administration on teachers to reach performance goals.

The research also indicated the potential for economic costs over time of having to support students who do not graduate. For example, research in North and South Carolina estimated that the annual public cost for each dropout was only slightly less than the public cost for that individual while he/she was in school and moving toward graduation. The calculation included income, income tax, property tax and social security losses.

The study results also emphasized the need for financial support of alternative education programs in Pennsylvania. According to the research, creative school districts, intermediate units and private providers are, by every indication, doing a great deal with very little funding.

Overall, the results of this study indicate that administrators and teachers believe that alternative education programs in Pennsylvania are effective and that the programs should continue to focus on the reengagement of disruptive and at-risk students in academics so that they may succeed in school and lead productive lives after leaving school.

For a copy of the research results, Survey and Analysis of Alternative Education Practices II, call or email the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or info@ruralpa.org, or visit www.ruralpa.org.


Chairman’s Message
Another summer has come and gone. Like many parents, my wife and I spent the last few weeks of August quietly preparing our children for the new school year.

As we got the children off to school on their first day, I was reminded once again of how times have changed. And I’m not just talking about the latest clothing and technology trends. I’m talking about the number of children attending school.

These days, there are fewer children attending school in rural Pennsylvania than just a decade ago.

According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, rural school districts have seen a roughly 4 percent decline in enrollment from 1997 to 2007. Among Pennsylvania’s 243 rural school districts, 193 districts, or about 80 percent, have seen their enrollment decline over those past 10 years. Urban districts, on the other hand, have seen a roughly 3 percent increase in enrollment. Among the 258 urban districts statewide, 119, or about 46 percent, have experienced declining enrollments.

Unfortunately, with the reality of declining enrollments comes the question of whether or not school districts should have fewer school buildings.

To help shed some light on the topic of school enrollment and school district building needs for rural Pennsylvania, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania sponsored research in 2006-2007 that could provide some perspective on potential building needs of rural districts over the next 10 years.

Dr. Wenfan Yan of Indiana University of Pennsylvania conducted the research, the results of which provide a somewhat complex portrait of school building conditions and projections for building capacity over the coming years. The article on Page 1 provides information about the research and the results. The entire report is available by contacting the Center.

Education seems to be the theme of the Center’s recently released reports, as it has also published the results of a study on alternative education. The study, also featured on Page 1, is a follow-up to research released in 2003 and was conducted by Drs. Nathaniel S. Hosley, Jessica Hosley, and Myint Thein of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. The team surveyed rural and urban school administrators and teachers to analyze alternative education practices in Pennsylvania. The research also looked at the impact of the federal No Child Left Behind mandates on alternative education and it included a financial analysis of the Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY) funding process in Pennsylvania.

The researchers found that administrators and teachers rate alternative education programs as moderately effective in improving a variety of academic and behavioral goals, such as academic performance and school attendance. In their conclusions, the researchers stressed how important it is to keep these programs focused on the reengagement of disruptive and at-risk students in academics, so that they can succeed in school and beyond.

Copies of the research results are available by contacting the Center or visiting its website at www.ruralpa.org.

Senator John Gordner


On the Road Again and Again and Again
Over the past three decades, the average commute time for rural Pennsylvania workers has gradually crept upward, from an average of 20 minutes in 1980 to 24 minutes in 2009. And, for rural workers, there appears to be a relationship between longer commutes and higher household incomes, according to an analysis by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

A look at commuting patterns
To analyze commuting patterns, the Center used the 1980 through 2000 decennial censuses and the 2005-2007 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as the 2009 Rural Pennsylvania Current Population Survey (RuralPA-CPS), the Center’s annual survey that is modeled after the federal government’s Current Population Survey. The Center used the Census Bureau data to identify historic commuting trends and the RuralPA-CPS to understand the characteristics of commuters and their households. 

For the analysis, a commuter is an employed person 16 years old and older who did not work at home. The Center divided commuters into two groups: those living in rural counties and those living in urban counties. A rural commuter lived in a rural county if the population density of that county was below the statewide average of 274 persons per square mile. Urban commuters lived in counties where the population density was at or above the statewide average. In 2000, there were 48 rural counties and 19 urban counties in Pennsylvania.

Results
Commuting trends
• In 2005-2007, rural Pennsylvania workers had an average commuting time of 24 minutes, an increase of four minutes from 1980.
• In 2005-2007, the average commuting time for urban workers was 26 minutes, an increase of three minutes from 1980.
• Compared to commuters in other states, Pennsylvanians had the nation’s 13th longest commute in 2005-2007. New York and Maryland commuters had the longest commute times with an average of about 31 minutes. Commuters in South Dakota and North Dakota had the shortest commute times with an average of 16 minutes.
• Within Pennsylvania’s reporting counties*, the longest average commute times were in Pike (42 minutes) and Monroe (39 minutes). Elk, Erie, McKean, and Union counties each had the shortest average commute times of under 19 minutes.
• In 2000, rural commuting times were negatively correlated with the per capita number of business establishments: the fewer businesses there were per capita, the higher the average commuting time, and vice versa.
• In 2000, there was no correlation between average commuting time and variables such as the unemployment rate, educational attainment, and the poverty rate.
• According to the 2009 RuralPA-CPS, 67 percent of rural commuters work in their county of residence. On average, these workers have a 15 minute commute. Thirty-three percent of rural commuters work outside their county of residence and their average commute time is 36 minutes.
• Among urban commuters, 72 percent work in their county of residence and 28 percent work outside their county of residence. Those who work in their county of residence have an average commute time of 19 minutes. For those who work outside their county of residence, the average commute time is 35 minutes.

Characteristics of rural commuters
• According to the 2009 RuralPA-CPS, the average rural commuter is 45 years old, married (71 percent) and lives in a household without children (59 percent). The majority of rural commuters is employed full-time (71 percent) and lives in a household with two or more workers (73 percent). 
• On average, rural male commuters travel longer (25 minutes) than rural female commuters (20 minutes).
• On average, rural commuters with a bachelor’s degree or higher have longer commute times (25 minutes) than commuters with a high school diploma (22 minutes). 
• Rural commuters in households with median incomes of less than $50,000 have, on average, shorter commuting times (19 minutes) than those in households with median incomes of $50,000 or more (25 minutes).

Conclusion
One of the most interesting findings from the analysis was that income and commuting times are positively correlated. That is, the longer the commute, the higher the household income, in general. This could suggest that workers with longer commutes are finding it financially rewarding to commute. 

On the down side of longer commutes is the higher and ever-fluctuating gas prices; any financial advantage workers gain from a longer commute could be diminished because of higher prices at the pump.

* Data limitations for this analysis:
• Commuting distance is measured in time, not miles. As a result, the Center does not know how far workers actually travel to their job site. Also unknown is whether factors, such as highway congestion, miles covered, or poorly maintained highways, are the causes for variations and changes in commuting time.

• The data are not separated according to the method of transportation, so they include those who walked to work as well as those who drove or took public transportation.

• The data from the 2005-2007 American Community Survey (ACS) excluded six Pennsylvania counties because their population was less than 20,000. The ACS also is based on a three-year average, so the results are reported as 2005-2007.


Internet Access, Broadband Connectivity Increase Among Rural Households
From 2007 to 2009, the percentage of rural households with Internet access and broadband access increased, according to data from the Rural Pennsylvania Current Population Survey (RuralPA-CPS). In 2007, 66 percent of rural households had Internet access and 41 percent had broadband access, which includes cable modem, digital subscriber line (DSL), or other related technologies. In 2009, 69 percent of rural households have Internet access and 56 percent have broadband access.

Despite these increases, rural areas still lag behind urban areas as 78 percent of urban households have Internet access and 68 percent have broadband access in 2009.

Internet access
In 2009, 69 percent of rural households are connected to the Internet and 31 percent are not connected. Among rural households without Internet access, 83 percent do not have a computer at home and 17 percent have a computer. The RuralPA-CPS does not collect information on the reasons why these households do not have Internet access. The RuralPA-CPS, however, does have information on the characteristics of rural households with and without Internet access.

According to the 2009 data, householders without Internet access are older than householders with access (average ages 63 and 53, respectively). In addition, households without Internet access are less affluent than those with access (median income of $22,500 and $57,500, respectively). And, households without Internet access are less likely to have children than households with access (11 percent and 33 percent, respectively). 

The data also indicate that, among some rural demographic groups, Internet access rates have changed. From 2007 to 2009, Internet access among senior citizen householders increased. In 2007, 44 percent of senior citizen householders had Internet access, while in 2009, 51 percent had access. From 2007 to 2009, there was also an increase in Internet access among adult householders without a high school diploma (39 percent to 45 percent). There was, however, no significant change in the percentage of low-income households (those with incomes less than $25,000) with Internet access (34 percent to 36 percent).

Dial-up vs. broadband access
The methods rural households are using to connect to the Internet are changing. In 2007, among all rural households with Internet access, 25 percent used dial-up modems and 41 percent used broadband connections. In 2009, 13 percent of these rural households used dial-up modems and 56 percent used broadband. In urban areas, there was a similar increase. In 2007, 20 percent of urban households with Internet access used dial-up modems and 53 percent used broadband. In 2009, 10 percent of these urban households used dial-up modems and 68 percent used broadband.

Again, the RuralPA-CPS does not gather information on why some households use dial-up while others use broadband. However, the survey does provide information on the characteristics of households using these two different access technologies. For example, households using dial-up have a lower median income than those using broadband ($48,000 and $65,000, respectively). Households with dial-up are less likely to have children (28 percent) than households with broadband (35 percent) and are more likely to be comprised of a single person (17 percent and 11 percent, respectively). Additionally, 21 percent of householders with dial-up have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 34 percent of householders with broadband access.

From 2007 to 2009, some rural demographic groups saw an increase in broadband use. Among these groups were households with children (18 percentage point increase), households with incomes greater than $50,000 (17 percentage point increase), and households with employed householders (20 percentage point increase). 

Among the groups that saw small changes in broadband access from 2007 to 2009 were households with incomes less than $25,000 (8 percentage point increase); renters (8 percentage point increase); and householders that were senior citizens (12 percentage point increase).

Nationally, there also has been an increase in home-based broadband use. According to data from the Pew Research Center, in 2007, 47 percent of adults in the United States had broadband at home; in 2009, the percentage increased to 63 percent. While the Pew survey method and focus are not the same as the RuralPA-CPS, the Pew study found a similar rural/urban gap in broadband access. In 2009, 46 percent of rural adults had broadband access compared to 67 percent of urban adults.

Percent of All Rural Households With and Without Internet Access and Method of Access, 2007 and 2009


Fast Fact: Rural/Urban Unemployment Rates, September 2007 to June 2009

Data Source: Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry


Just the Facts: Anchors Away
In 2008, there were more than 328,900 registered boats in Pennsylvania, according to data from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC). About 44 percent were registered to owners living in rural counties and 56 percent were registered to owners living in urban counties.

On a per-capita basis, there were 26 registered boats for every 1,000 residents in Pennsylvania. Alternatively, there were 41 boats for every 100 acres of water in the commonwealth.

Within Pennsylvania, there were 43 boats for every 1,000 residents living in rural counties and 22 boats for every 1,000 residents living in urban counties.

Among all counties, Crawford, Forest, Wayne and Wyoming have the most boats registered per capita, each with more than 70 boats for every 1,000 residents. The counties with the least number of boats per capita were the four southeast counties of Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia, each with less than 16 boats for every 1,000 residents.

According to the most current data (2007) from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Auxiliary and Boating Safety, there were 12.9 million registered recreational boats in the United States.  Among the 50 states, Pennsylvania ranked 13th in the total number of registered recreational boats, but 40th in the number of boats for every 1,000 residents. The states with the largest number of boats per capita were Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Carolina, each with more than 100 boats for every 1,000 residents. New Mexico and Hawaii had the least number of boats per capita, each with less than 20 for every 1,000 residents. 

From 2000 to 2008, the number of registered boats in Pennsylvania declined 6 percent, according to PFBC data. Urban counties had an 8 percent decline and rural counties had a 3 percent decline. Pennsylvania, however, was not alone in the decline in the number of boats. According to the U.S. Coast Guard data, from 2000 to 2007, 21 other states saw a decline in boat registrations.

Within Pennsylvania, per capita boat registrations are statistically related to the sale of fishing licenses, the percentage of vacation homes, and tourism expenditures per capita. Not surprisingly, there was also a relationship between the number of acres of water per capita and per capita boat registrations.


Change of Address
On November 1, 2009, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania's new address will be:

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania
625 Forster Street, Room 902
Harrisburg, PA 17120

The Center's telephone and fax numbers will remain the same.



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