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September/October 2000

Inside This Issue:

 

Rural Schools: Making the Grade
Are rural schools making the grade in helping students improve their academic achievement and graduation rates? According to an analysis of the School Performance Funding program, an awards program administered by the state Department of Education, rural schools have been receiving awards for improvements in both of these areas.

The School Performance Funding program (SPF) was created by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1998 to reward public schools for improvements in student academic achievement and improved attendance/graduation rates. The program provides cash awards to individual schools within a school district and allows these schools to spend the money in a variety of ways with one stipulation: the schools must spend at least half of the award on the planning, delivery and assessment of instructional programs. Up to 25 percent of the award may be used as individual staff rewards.

For improvements in student achievement, schools may receive awards of between $7.50 and $37.50 per student, depending on performance levels, which are based on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests. These are statewide, standardized tests given to all 5th, 8th, and 11th grade students.

For improvements in attendance and graduation rates, schools may receive an estimated incentive payment of between $6 and $37.50 per student, again depending on increased attendance/graduation rates.

To determine how rural schools faired in this program, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania analyzed two years of combined award data to develop a more complete understanding of both rural and urban school achievements. The analysis did not include vocational/technical schools or intermediate units.

Also for the analysis, school districts were classified as follows:

- districts that received academic improvement awards only;

- districts that received improved attendance/graduation rate awards only;

- districts that received both improved academic awards and attendance/graduation rate awards; and

- districts that received no awards.

The basics

- Between 1998 and 1999, 453 school districts received more than $22.6 million from the School Performance Funding program: rural school districts received 22 percent, or less than $5 million, of the grant awards.

- The average award total that rural school districts received was $30,212. The average award total that urban school districts received was $61,166. On a per student basis, rural districts received an average of $12.96 per student and urban districts received an average of $13.46 per student.

- Regionally, nearly 60 percent of the awards went to school districts in eastern Pennsylvania.

- Nearly 82 percent of the funding received by rural districts was for academic achievement, and 18 percent was for increases in attendance/graduation rates. Among urban school districts, 61 percent of the funding was for academic achievement and 39 percent was awarded for attendance/graduation rate increases.

Academic Achievement Only

- Among the 165 rural districts that received SPF awards, 52 percent received only academic achievement awards. Among the 288 urban districts, 43 percent received only academic achievement awards.

- Regionally, the highest percentage of rural school districts that received academic awards only were in central Pennsylvania. The highest percentage of urban districts was in the southwestern region.

- On average, rural districts received more for academic achievements than urban districts. The average cash award for rural districts was $27,260, or about $13 per student. The urban districts’ average was $25,950, or $8.50 per student.

Increases in Attendance/Graduation Rates

- About 6 percent of rural districts received only attendance/graduation awards. The average award was less than $9,800, or $4 per student. About 6 percent of urban school districts also received attendance awards only. The average award for urban districts was $12,185, or $4 per student.

- Based on the Center's analysis of data, urban districts that received awards for improvements in attendance and graduation rates were generally more affluent than similarly awarded rural districts. These urban districts spent about $1,000 more per student on actual instructional expenses than rural districts, and received over 70 percent of their revenues from local sources.

Academic Achievement and Attendance/Graduation Rates

- More than 42 percent of the rural school districts received cash awards for both increases in academic achievement and attendance/graduation rates. Among urban districts, more than 51 percent received both types of awards. Regionally, the highest percentages of rural districts receiving these two types of awards were in the central and northwest regions. Among urban districts, the largest percentages were in the southeast and southwest regions.

- The average cash award going to rural districts was $37,244, or roughly $14 per student. From this amount, 68 percent was awarded for academic achievement, and 31 percent for increases in attendance/graduation rates.

No-Award Districts

- Seventeen rural school districts, or 9 percent, either did not qualify or did not apply for the awards. In urban areas, 31 school districts, or nearly 10 percent, either did not qualify or did not apply for the awards.

- Nearly 60 percent of the no-award rural school districts were located in western Pennsylvania. The largest percentage of no-award urban districts (42 percent) was located in the southwestern corner of the state.

Want more info?

For a more detailed fact sheet, Rural Schools: Making the Grade, contact the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email at info@ruralpa.org.

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Chairman’s Message
Getting kids to come to and stay in school is a challenge for many school districts across the Commonwealth. Rural and urban educators, along with state government, continue to study methods to achieve this goal. It’s not as simple as A,B,C or 1,2,3. As a matter of fact, one public school in my legislative district is offering to give high school seniors who have perfect attendance the chance to win a new car upon graduation. This idea has been lauded by some and criticized by others, but it points to the problem that is being tackled from many angles by today’s schools.

A 1998 law also aims at improving student academic achievement through incentives to school districts. Our cover story, Rural Schools: Making the Grade, analyzes Pennsylvania Department of Education data regarding the statutorily created program. The department’s "report card" shows many schools have been doing their homework and are using this new law to improve academic achievement and graduation rates.

All of us at the Center for Rural Pennsylvania are proud of our Penn State faculty partners who recently received a national award for a CD-ROM that was developed with funding support from the Center. PA BLUPRINTS is a tool that people from all over the Commonwealth and nation have been using to help determine what is best for their communities in terms of planning and development. Created in 1996, PA BLUPRINTS is now in its third printing. See page 6 to find out how you can order your copy of this award-winning CD-ROM.

Most of us know someone who uses tobacco products. We have all heard or read about the harmful effects that smoking has on our health. The state Department of Health has documented the costs of smoking to our communities in higher health care charges, lost wages, and absenteeism. The article on page 5 gives us more reason to "kick the habit," or better yet, to not start smoking.

As I wrap up this edition’s Message from the Chairman, please look at the next page. "Another survey?" you ask. Yes, and I’d really appreciate if you would take a few minutes after reading all the great information contained in this issue to complete the survey and return it to us. During the past decade, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania has been publishing a newsletter filled with rural resources, references and contacts. In recent years, we have made some changes to the format and content of this publication in order to improve its value to you, our readers.

Now it’s your turn to give us some input. What do you like? What would you like to see changed? Your feedback will help us to continue to make positive changes to the newsletter and to focus on the information you find valuable. If you are among the readers who prefer electronic responses, feel free to complete our online survey available on our website at www.ruralpa.org. Thanks in advance for taking time to answer the survey and for helping us to keep Rural Perspectives moving forward.

Representative Sheila Miller

Chairman

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Rural Perspectives Newsletter Survey
Help us to better serve you! By responding to the following survey, you can help the Center for Rural Pennsylvania make its newsletter more responsive to your informational needs.

Please take a few minutes to answer the following questions and return the survey to the Center by mail or fax.

The survey is also available on the Center’s website at www.ruralpa.org/survey.html.

We would appreciate your response no later than November 3, 2000. The results of the survey will be featured in an upcoming issue of Rural Perspectives. Thank you for your response.

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Going Up In Smoke
Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death in rural areas, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. In 1997, nearly 5,000 rural Pennsylvanians — which is roughly the population of Forest County — died from smoking-related illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease.

In 1997, smoking caused 195 deaths for every 100,000 residents in rural areas and 189 deaths for every 100,000 residents in urban areas. In both rural and urban areas, smoking causes about 18 percent of all deaths.

Rural males are more at risk from smoking-related deaths than rural females. In 1997, 63 percent of smoking-related deaths were rural males, or almost twice the percentage of rural females. In urban areas, 60 percent of smoking-related deaths were male.

Costs are many

In addition to the toll smoking takes on individuals, it takes a toll on the economy. According to the state Department of Health’s data, smoking cost rural communities more than $885 million in 1997, or about $350 per person. More than 36 percent, or $321.8 million, of these costs were health care related: hospital charges, physician fees, and medication costs. Estimates indicate that 15 cents of every dollar spent on health care in rural Pennsylvania is for smoking-related illnesses. In urban areas, only 6 percent of the health care costs are attributed to smoking-related illnesses.

Other economic costs are lost wages and productivity. In 1997, Pennsylvania’s rural areas lost about $72 million, or about $88 per rural employee per year in wages and productivity because of smoking related illnesses. That’s $25 more than the urban average where the cost in lost wages and productivity was $63 per employee per year.

Absenteeism was another problem associated with smoking. Again in 1997, it was estimated that workers clocked more than 884,400 days absent from work because of smoking disabilities.

Who smokes?

How many rural residents smoke? According to the Department of Health’s data, nearly 1 in 4 residents are smokers. This is the same rate as in urban areas. Since 1994, the percentage of Pennsylvanians who smoke has remained unchanged at 24 percent of the population. Nationally, it is estimated that 23 percent of the population smoke.

Within Pennsylvania, about 30 percent, which is the highest percentage of smokers, are under 45 years old. Also, individuals with less education and income are more likely to smoke.

Combating use

With thousands of tobacco related deaths each year, tobacco use is increasingly seen as a public health issue, especially among teenagers. According to a 1995 study by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 26 percent of high school seniors said that they smoke cigarettes every day, and over 42 percent of ninth graders said that they were willing to smoke cigarettes.

To combat teen smoking, the Department of Health has launched a number of statewide information campaigns aimed at educating retailers of their responsibilities on the sale of tobacco products and encouraging youth to take a pledge to unite and promote a tobacco-free society.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also focusing efforts to combat smoking by developing a list of best practice recommendations. Some relevant practices for rural communities include the development of community and school programs to raise awareness on the harmful affects of tobacco usage, increased enforcement of tobacco use laws, and instituting counter-marketing activities.

Want more info?

For more information about Pennsylvania’s campaign to combat smoking, contact the Department of Health’s Tobacco Control Program at 717-783-6600 or visit the department’s website at www.health.state.pa.us.

For more information about the Centers for Disease Control best practice recommendations, visit its website at www.cdc.gov.

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Did You Know ...

- The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture was established in 1895 by Gov. Daniel B. Hastings.

- In June 2000, the rural unemployment rate was 4.9 percent.

- Federal expenditures in rural areas totaled $4,671 per person in 1999.

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PA BLUPRINTS Receives National Award
PA BLUPRINTS, an educational and interactive CD-ROM that was supported by a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and developed by researchers at Penn State University in 1996 has received a national award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Developed by Kelleann Foster and Timothy Johnson, associate professors at Penn State University, PA BLUPRINTS helps communities to understand the various options they may use to protect their cultural and natural resources while accommodating growth. The CD-ROM includes dynamic illustrations and real-world examples from across Pennsylvania, and is divided into six topic areas: agriculture, community character, natural systems, sign control, streetscapes, and trees/woods.

PA BLUPRINTS received an award of merit in the Analysis and Planning category of the awards program. The CD-ROM was selected because of its quality, functionality, environmental considerations, and overall relevance to landscape architecture.

The CD-ROM is now in its third printing and has been updated to better work on today’s computer operating systems.

To receive a copy of PA BLUPRINTS, send a check for $14 made out to Penn State University to the Department of Landscape Architecture, 210 Unit D, University Park, PA 16802-1429.

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No Small Matter
Pennsylvania’s municipalities come in all shapes and sizes. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the state is home to some of the smallest municipalities, geographically, in the nation.

In Pennsylvania, 288 municipalities are less than one-half square miles in size each — roughly the size of two,18-hole golf courses. These "micro-municipalities," as we’ll call them, make up 11 percent of the state’s nearly 2,600 municipalities.

In 1998, more than 245,400 Pennsylvanians lived in micro-municipalities, or an average of 850 residents per municipality. More than 70 percent of these municipalities are rural. Regionally, the largest concentration of micro-municipalities is in southwestern and central Pennsylvania.

Between 1990 and 1998, micro-municipalities lost nearly 4 percent of their population. Demographically, micro-municipalities have a higher than average percentage of elderly and single person households. They also have a higher percentage of rental units and homes built before World War II.

According to the Census Bureau, the average household income in a micro-municipality is about $7,200 below the state average. In addition, only 15 percent of the workforce actually live and work in their municipality; most commute to work.

The average micro-municipality was incorporated in 1880. Every micro-municipality except one was incorporated as a borough. The sole exception is West Lebanon Township in Lebanon County.

In 1997, the average micro-municipality’s budget was just over $282,600, and more than 40 percent of the revenues came from taxes.

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