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July/August 2003

Inside This Issue:

 

Center Releases Reports on Alternative Education and E-commerce
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania's Board of Directors has approved and released two reports on alternative education and e-commerce, conducted by researchers at Lock Haven University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, respectively. The reports are based on research projects conducted in 2002.

Alternative Education
Alternative education programs are experiencing tremendous growth in Pennsylvania and nationwide. In 2001-2002, Pennsylvania allocated $26 million for alternative programs serving disruptive youth: a rather dramatic jump from $11 million in 2000-2001.

Among the many variations of alternative education programming are charter schools, special vocational schools, magnet schools, gifted alternatives, boot camps, and alternative schools for disruptive youth.

Research regarding the practices in alternative education settings is limited, however, and no research on Pennsylvania programs is readily available.

To learn more about the current status of alternative programs in Pennsylvania, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania awarded a research grant to Dr. Nathaniel Hosley of Lock Haven University to study the topic and generate as much data as possible about alternative education programs.

In the report, entitled Survey and Analysis of Alternative Education Programs, Hosley and his team of researchers surveyed rural and urban school administrators and teachers and found that 463 alternative education programs were funded in 2001-2002 by the Pennsylvania Department of Education under "Disruptive Youth" programming legislation. Other programs were funded through local school districts, grant programs and other sources.

The focus of most alternative education programs included all types of classification programs, namely discipline, academics and behavior. In general, alternative education programs contained the following characteristics:

  • The programs are generally more than one-half day and often full-day programs.
  • Services are provided throughout the 180-day school year.
  • More than 50 percent of students spend at least one-half year in the alternative program, with 23 percent spending a full school year or more.
  • Teacher to student ratios are most often 1-to-6 and the large majority of programs have ratios of 1 teacher to 12 or fewer students.

More than 60 percent of respondents to the teacher survey noted that curriculum is individually adapted in the alternative setting.

In general, career counseling and career curriculum appear to be of only modest priority.

Discipline and behavior change are cited most often as important processes for these programs though more than two-thirds of respondents also indicated the importance of therapeutic programming.

The researchers also noted specific findings related to students, personnel, and the AE curriculum, and offered recommendations on further developing and maintaining alternative education programs.

E-commerce
While rural Pennsylvania had been a leader in the steel and coal industries of the 20th Century, many rural areas have been slow in adapting to the 21st Century industry of e-commerce and high technology. To assess the awareness of e-commerce issues in the commonwealth and develop strategies to enhance e-commerce activity in rural Pennsylvania, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania awarded a research grant to Prashanth B. Nagendra and Ramesh G. Soni of Indiana University.

The researchers' goals were to assess the level and type of e-commerce used by small businesses in rural Pennsylvania; understand the perception or readiness of small business owners pertaining to e-commerce; assess the communication infrastructure needs of small businesses, along with staffing, hiring, training and government support incentives; and offer policy recommendations.

According to the research results, which are offered in the report Assessment of and Strategies for Enhancing E-commerce in Rural Pennsylvania, there is a clear indication that urban counties experience more e-commerce activity than rural counties. E-commerce also seems to be more prevalent in manufacturing, service, and finance, insurance and real estate than in other business sectors. The agriculture sector is far behind all other sectors in engaging in e-commerce.

Businesses are engaging in mostly the marketing aspects of e-commerce, such as advertising, selling and customer service, and very little in the supply chain management aspects of e-commerce.

Overall, the researchers concluded that there does not seem to be any real barriers in the state to getting started in e-commerce. Service costs, however, can be extremely prohibitive in remote areas and two major technological deficiencies were inadequate bandwidth and the lack of redundancy to assure uninterrupted service.

While businesses expressed a favorable perception of the business climate in Pennsylvania, they did not believe that venture capital, a skilled workforce, collaboration between public and private sectors and a high-tech image were adequate. Businesses also believe that e-commerce should not be taxed since state revenues will be lost.

To promote e-commerce among small, rural businesses in Pennsylvania, the researchers provided the following recommendations:

  • Educate entrepreneurs and small business owners and managers about the strategic importance of e-commerce and its potential benefit to businesses.
  • Develop resources for providing short-term, practical, hands-on training and free consultancy to small, rural businesses to adopt e-commerce.
  • Develop and promote initiatives to encourage public-private funding for developing technological infrastructure in the commonwealth.
  • Allow utility companies to develop a network of fiber optics across the commonwealth using a public fund, similar to the efforts of Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD).
  • Consider initiatives implemented in other states that may be replicated in Pennsylvania.


Reports now available
For a copy of the alternative education report, Survey and Analysis of Alternative Education Programs, or the e-commerce report, Assessment of and Strategies for Enhancing E-commerce in Rural Pennsylvania, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email info@ruralpa.org.

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Chairman's Message
What a year we've experienced to date. Mother Nature kept us wondering when spring's rain spigot would be turned off and her cloudy skies replaced with warm summer sun. Now, many areas in our commonwealth are wondering where all the water has gone as the ground begins to crack and harden, bringing back unwelcome memories of last year's drought. While some of our farmland has been blessed with corn that lived up to a "knee-high by the Fourth of July" measuring stick, other areas see crop fields that are at least a month behind in maturity. All of us in rural Pennsylvania who are linked to the agricultural land are holding our breath and hoping that this year's harvest brings better yields for our farm community than has been experienced during the past several cycles.

Pennsylvania's students look forward to summer months when they can vacate the classroom to play, work, and prepare for another school year. For some of our students, the classroom is not the traditional one because of behavior issues. Dr. Nathaniel Hosley of Lock Haven University surveyed rural and urban school officials and found 463 alternative education programs were funded by the Department of Education during the 2001-2002 school year. His report, which was recently accepted by the Center's Board of Directors, provides details on enrollment, curriculum offerings, and personnel, and is featured in this edition of Rural Perspectives.

We also highlight Indiana University faculty members Prashanth B. Nagendra and Ramesh G. Soni's work on the Assessment of and Strategies for Enhancing E-commerce in Rural Pennsylvania. They conclude that most rural businesses engage in e-commerce for advertising, selling, and customer service. Few businesses participate in the supply chain management aspects of e-commerce. The researchers offer recommendations to help increase the use and effectiveness of e-commerce for rural entrepreneurs who want to be players in this ever-evolving global economy.

And, in a research report that builds on some earlier work looking at the effectiveness of economic development programs for rural Pennsylvania, Penn State's Martin Shields and Stephen Smith provide us with an evaluation of the Customized Job Training Program, Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority Program, and the Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund. Their information was based on personal interviews with participants of these three specific programs.

We continue our Trends in Rural Pennsylvania series with a progress report on education. This review, which covers the time period 1990 to 2000, looks at enrollment, finances, personnel, and outcomes. A more detailed fact sheet on this issue is available by contacting the Center.

Don't forget to send us your ideas for "Rural Works." We are compiling information on unique programs, efforts, and partnerships that have made a difference in rural Pennsylvania. The submission deadline is October 31, 2003, and since we all know how fast time goes, why not complete the information form now before you head out to enjoy our commonwealth's great outdoors.

I hope all of you have a tremendous summer. Be sure to purchase some of Pennsylvania's great direct-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables as your travels take you through the Keystone State's bountiful and beautiful rural areas.

Representative Sheila Miller

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Trends in Rural Pennsylvania: Education Progress Report
Of the state's 501 school districts, 243 are rural: that's about 49 percent of the state's total. Between them, rural districts have about 1,080 school buildings, or an average of four buildings per school district. Within rural areas, there are seven charter schools and 36 vo-tech schools.

Geographically, rural school districts encompass an average of 150 square miles each, but there are 35 rural districts that stretch more than 250 square miles each.

In 2000, the average rural school district served a population of 13,600. Between 1990 and 2000, the population in Pennsylvania's rural school districts increased nearly 6 percent.

According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, school districts are among the top five largest employers in 54 percent of the state's 48 rural counties.

Enrollment
During the 2000 school year, there were nearly 2.2 million school students in Pennsylvania. About 27 percent of these students, or 584,000, were enrolled in a rural school. Among these rural students, 8 percent were enrolled in a private or non-public school, 2 percent were home schooled, and the remaining 90 percent were enrolled in public schools. In urban areas, 18 percent of students were enrolled in private and non-public schools, 1 percent was home schooled, and the remaining 81 percent attended public schools. Since public schools have the largest statewide enrollment, the information presented here focuses exclusively on public education data.

Among the 243 rural school districts in Pennsylvania, the average enrollment in 2000 was 2,166; 53 per-cent of these students were enrolled in elementary schools (K-6), and 47 per-cent were in secondary schools (7-12).

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of students attending rural schools increased 2 percent. This growth was not consistent statewide. Nearly 60 percent of rural school districts, primarily located in western Pennsylvania, had a decline in enrollment.

Only about 8 percent of rural school districts, generally located in eastern Pennsylvania, had enrollment increases greater than 20 percent.

Teachers
In 2000, there were 32,300 rural classroom teachers, or an average of one teacher for every 16.3 students. In 1990, the average was one teacher for every 17.9 students. In general, rural schools have slightly lower student-teacher ratios than urban schools.

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of teachers in rural schools increased nearly 13 percent, or more than six times the enrollment rate change. Among the 142 rural districts that lost enrollment during this period, 72 percent had gained classroom teachers.

School Finances
Revenues
In 2000, the average rural school district received more than $17 million in revenues. About 48 percent of revenues came from local sources, primarily real estate taxes, 48 percent came from state government and 4 percent came from the federal government and other miscellaneous sources.

Expenditures
In 2000, the average rural school district spent $7,777 per student. Between 1990 and 2000, spending per student, adjusted for inflation, increased 28 percent. During the 1990s, the per student expenditure gap between rural and urban school districts narrowed.

Free and Reduced Lunches
In 2000, about 140,000 rural students, or 28 percent, were eligible for the free or reduced school lunch pro-gram, which provides a hot lunch to students from low-income families. In urban school districts in 2000, 33 percent of students qualified for this program.

Outcomes
PSSA Scores
Scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests vary in rural Pennsylvania. In 2000, fifth graders in more than 52 percent of rural school districts scored above the statewide average. By the eighth grade, less than 40 percent scored above the statewide score, and in the eleventh grade, less than 33 percent scored above the statewide average.

Dropout Rates
In 2000, more than 4,900 secondary students dropped out of school, or 2 percent. Throughout the 1990s, the dropout rate in both rural and urban schools remained fairly constant, about 2 to 3 percent of secondary students.

Postsecondary Plans
In 2000, 68 percent of rural high school seniors planned to continue their education after graduation. This rate represents a 5 percentage point increase from 1993, when the post-secondary participation rate was 63 percent.

Educational Attainment
According to Census Bureau data, in 1990, 25 percent of rural Pennsylvanians age 25 and older had less than a high school education. Through the decade, this figure fell to 19 percent in 2000.

Although rural educational attainment is rising, it has far to go to reach urban figures. In urban counties, 18 percent of those age 25 and older had not completed high school while 25 percent had obtained at least a bachelor's degree.

Want more info?
For a copy of the complete Trends in Rural Pennsylvania: Education Progress Report, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email info@ruralpa.org.

Definitions and Sources
Rural: Residents of school districts whose Census 2000 population density is less than the statewide figure of 274 persons per square mile. In the section, "Educational Attainment," rural is counties whose 2000 Census population density is less than the statewide figure of 274 persons per square mile.

Charter schools, vocational-technical schools, and private/non-public schools were not included in the data.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics reflect the year 2000 and come from the state Department of Education.

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Pennsylvania's Byways Program
"Everything good is on the highway." Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist, poet and philosopher used this saying in his essay "Experience," which expresses the idea that the experience of getting to a destination is probably more important than the final destination.

Many can probably understand what Emerson was talking about as they travel through rural Pennsylvania and experience some of the most scenic and historically significant highways in the nation.

To support local planning and funding efforts to maintain and promote the natural resources and intrinsic qualities of such highways, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) established the Pennsylvania Byways Program in 2002.

The program is designed to further promote the qualities that make highway corridors special and unique. Specifically, the program's goals are to enhance and improve the visual impact of specific routes; maintain the natural resources and intrinsic qualities along specific routes; educate residents and visitors on the history and culture of the commonwealth; and provide more opportunities for funding in such programs as PennDOT's Transportation Enhancements Program.

The Byways Program also allows designated routes to qualify for federal funds to pay for such improvements as paved shoulders to accommodate bicycles, interpretative signs and scenic plantings. One requirement, however, is that new billboards be prohibited along the designated route if the route is part of the Federal-aid Primary or National Highway Systems.

Any government unit may nominate a federal, state or local highway corridor or portion of a corridor that has one or more of the following characteristics: scenic, archeological, cultural, historic, natural, or recreational. PennDOT will evaluate the nomination and select those highways that best meet the program's goals. State designation makes a highway eligible for National Scenic Byway Designation.

Routes that are designated as a Pennsylvania Byway may be identified with special signs and promoted on PennDOT maps and other publications.

As of June 2003, two highway corridors have been designated as Pennsylvania Byways: State Route 3011 in McKean County and PA Route 144, which runs through Sproul State Forest in Centre and Clinton counties. In addition, four routes previously designated by the PA General Assembly are part of the PA Byways Program.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Byways Program, call PennDOT's PA Byways Coordinator in the Bureau of Planning and Research at (717) 787-0782, or visit www.dot.state.pa.us/penndot/bureaus/PlanRes.nsf/HomePageByways.

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Three State Economic Development Programs Get Thumbs Up in Rural Areas
Three of the commonwealth's largest economic development programs in rural areas have been given positive reviews by businesses that use the programs, according to a recently released report by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

The report, Retrospective of Economic Development Incentives: An Evaluation of Participant Experiences in Rural Pennsylvania, offers reviews of the Customized Job Training Program, the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority and the Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund. Researchers Martin Shields and Stephen M. Smith of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology at Penn State University conducted the study in 2001 and 2002. The researchers chose the three programs for study since they provided more than 50 percent of all economic development funds and about 60 percent of the spending in rural counties. The researchers assessed the performance of the programs by interviewing state agency officials, local program intermediaries and 19 participating businesses. The analysis was based on the interviews by emphasizing common perceptions and themes. Overall, the findings indicated that:

  • The Customized Job Training Program is an important initiative in workforce development, providing workers with both basic and advanced training. Companies reported that training provides a "stepping stone" for workers, enabling them to move into higher paying and more advanced jobs.

  • The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority Program is relatively well received by businesses, which indicated that they were "satisfied" to "very satisfied" with the program. The best aspects of the program appear to be the low interest rates, and the good working relationships with local industrial development corporations and the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

  • The Machinery and Equipment Loan Fund is also relatively well received by businesses and, in most cases, received an "average" to "very satisfied" rating by businesses. The strengths of the program were the low interest rate and a good working relationship with DCED.

The researchers also included recommendations on how to improve the programs, especially in terms of the application and approval process.

Following up on the basics
The report is a follow-up to an earlier Center-sponsored research project that examined the role that state economic development programs play in generating employment and income in Pennsylvania counties. That study, A Retrospective of Pennsylvania's Economic Development Programs, found that many state programs had statistically significant impacts on employment, business establishments and per capita income levels in rural Pennsylvania.

With this second study, the researchers were able to build on that earlier work and provide specifics on the effectiveness of three important economic development programs.

For a copy of a Retrospective of Economic Development Incentives: An Evaluation of Participant Experiences in Rural Pennsylvania, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email info@ruralpa.org. Copies of the initial study, A Retrospective of Pennsylvania's Economic

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Did You Know. . .

  • There are nearly 782,000 children in rural Pennsylvania - that's about one out of every four rural residents.

  • Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (2001) indicate that 30 percent of rural students are eligible to participate in the Free or Reduced School Lunch Program.

  • From 1990 to 2000, the number of rural children in poverty declined more than 13 percent.

  • More than one in seven children, or 15 percent, in rural Pennsylvania lived in poverty. This ratio represents more than 116,000 children.

  • Nationally, there are 11.7 million children in poverty, or about 17 percent.

  • According to the Department of Public Welfare, in February 2003, more than 22,500 rural Pennsylvanians received Food Stamps, or 6.5 percent of the population.
    Note: According to Census 2000, the poverty threshold for a family of three was $13,880.
    The information above is from Census 2000 unless noted otherwise.

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Just the Facts: Historically Speaking
Pennsylvania is an historically significant state. According to the U.S. Park Service, the commonwealth is home to more than 7,500 places on the National Register of Historic Places, or 10 percent of the nation's total.

Rural Pennsylvania holds its own as well. In 2002, there were more than 2,600 places that were either listed on the National Register or eligible to be listed.

Typically, properties on the National Register are churches, schools, homes, buildings, factories, streetscapes, historic districts, and farms. These properties are deemed either architecturally, historically, or culturally significant by the Park Service and worthy of preservation. Benefits for places on the Register include tax breaks, federal funds for historic preservation, and consideration in federally run or assisted projects. A property can be either listed on the National Register, which means that it is of local or statewide significance; or eligible, which means that it meets the criteria for listing, but has not yet been listed. In addition, some properties are designated as National Historic Landmarks (NHL). These properties are similar to listed properties, but have national significance.

Of the 2,600 sites in rural Pennsylvania, 35 percent are listed and 64 percent are eligible for listing. Approximately 1 percent, or 27 rural sites, is National Historic Landmarks. Nearly 40 percent of the rural sites listed are buildings, such as schools, churches, and homes, 10 percent are farms, and 12 percent are historic districts or streetscapes. More than half of the sites are in townships, while the remainder is split between boroughs and small cities.

Although the National Register was created in the 1960s, more than one third of the sites in rural Pennsylvania were listed or became eligible within the last 15 years.

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Tell Us How "Rural Works" for You
Is your rural community or organization acting on its idea of building a better rural Pennsylvania? If so, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania would like to hear your story to share it with others.

Over the next several months, the Center will collect information about the work of rural Pennsylvania communities, organizations and groups who, through innovative programs, projects or partnerships, are improving their rural communities' conditions, and providing opportunities to sustain the good works they have achieved. The program should be currently running or should have started and been completed between January 2000 and this year.

After the Center has received and compiled the information, it will feature the stories in its newsletter and in a special publication. The publication will provide details about the programs and projects so that other rural communities may replicate the models to use in their communities. The Center also plans to use the publication to celebrate the success of the programs and applaud the commitment of those involved.

To provide us with details of your project, program or partnership, contact the Center for Rural Pennsylvania for an information form at (717) 787-9555 or download the form, available in pdf format, at www.ruralpa.org. The completed forms should be returned to the Center by Friday, October 31, 2003.

 

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