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September/October 2006

Inside This Issue:

 

Rural School District Consolidation – Is Bigger Always Better?
True or false: bigger rural school districts always produce more academically qualified students, offer better academic programs and operate more cost effectively than smaller districts? False, according to research recently released by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

The research, conducted by Dr. Wenfan Yan of Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2003, looked at a variety of indicators for Pennsylvania’s rural school districts of various sizes to determine if significant differences exist among them. Overall, the findings did not support the notion that bigger rural school districts are necessarily better.

Research background
As declining student enrollment continues to challenge most Pennsylvania rural school districts, it is an important time for policy makers and educational researchers to re-think the feasibility of restructuring school districts. However, restructuring decisions should be made only after a comprehensive examination of the efficiency of existing rural school district structures.

Since previous research on school district structure and efficiency was limited in scope, such as not making a distinction between school size and district size and typically focusing on urban schools, the researcher compared Pennsylvania rural school districts of various sizes to determine whether or not the structure of the districts had an impact on fiscal management, administrative capacity, and student achievement.

Comparing the districts
The researcher first categorized rural districts based on size, as follows: rural countywide school districts, rural non-countywide school districts and mixed rural-urban school districts.

For each district type, the researcher looked at various indicators, such as background characteristics of residents in the district, fiscal management, administrative capacity and student academic achievement, to determine if significant differences existed among the district types.

With respect to background characteristics, rural countywide school districts and rural non-countywide school districts had higher percentages of students from low-income families than mixed rural-urban districts. Rural countywide school districts also had higher total district expenditures and more total staff than the other two district types. None of these differences, however, was statistically significant.
While there were differences among rural countywide school districts and the other two district types in the number of program offerings and educational resources available to students, the differences were not statistically significant.

A comparison of student academic achievement found that most of the statistically significant differences were between rural non-countywide and mixed rural-urban school districts, which indicated that mixed rural-urban school districts had overall significantly higher test scores in most of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and SAT scores.

The results also indicated that a smaller percentage of rural countywide school district graduates planned to go to degree-granting and non-degree-granting institutions than rural non-countywide and mixed rural-urban school districts. Rural countywide districts also had a higher percentage of graduates planning to join the military and a lower percentage of graduates choosing homemaking than the two other district types. But again, these differences were not statistically significant. 

Conclusions
Overall, the research did not find any evidence to support the notion that bigger districts are better districts, in terms of cost efficiency, administrative capacity or academic achievement, in rural Pennsylvania. The research did show that countywide school districts might not have the same advantages as non-countywide school districts. For example, the study discovered an unequal distribution of educational resources, including curricular offerings, among rural school districts. This may create an obstacle in the equal success of all students.

Also, since the perception of cost efficiency and administrative capacity of larger school districts were not supported by this study, policy makers and educational leaders may need to examine other methods of increasing school district effectiveness rather than consolidating small school districts into larger ones.

Report available
For a copy of the report, Is Bigger Better: A Comparison of Rural School Districts, call or email the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or info@ruralpa.org or visit www.ruralpa.org.

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Analysis of 2006 Population Survey Finds Small Decrease in Rural Uninsured
Rural households without health insurance decreased slightly from 2005 to 2006 as did the percentage of households that have health insurance through their employers, according to data from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s yearly Current Population Survey, or RuralPA-CPS. A comparison of data from the 2005 and recently completed 2006 RuralPA-CPS shows a 1 percentage point decrease in the number of rural households that were uninsured and a 2 percentage point decrease in the number of rural households with employer-sponsored health insurance.

Rural households that have health insurance through Medicare only and those with health insurance through other government programs increased 2 percentage points and 1 percentage point, respectively, over the same one-year period.

Gathering the data
The RuralPA-CPS, which is modeled after the March Supplement of the federal Current Population Survey, was first conducted in 2005 and provides baseline data on the state’s rural households and individuals. In 2006, the Center expanded the survey of more than 2,000 rural households to include an additional 1,000 urban households and their members. This dynamic database will enable the Center and other data users to better understand the conditions faced by specific populations, such as single parents, the rural elderly, and the uninsured.

This year, the Center’s analysis focused on health insurance and the characteristics of households with different types of health insurance.

Employer-sponsored health insurance
According to the 2006 RuralPA-CPS data, 40 percent of rural households have health insurance through an employer. These households are typically made up of married couples (78 percent) who are about 44 years old and do not have children living in their home (58 percent). The people in these rural households are likely to own their home (89 percent), and have an associate’s degree or higher (45 percent). These households have a median income of $57,000. Between 2005 and 2006, the number of rural households with health insurance through an employer decreased from 42 percent to 40 percent. These rural households are very similar to urban households that are insured through an employer. One difference, however, is urban households have higher median incomes ($78,200). In urban areas, 46 percent of households are insured through an employer.

Medicare
Medicare is a federal health insurance program for persons 65 years old and older and for certain younger people with disabilities. In rural Pennsylvania, Medicare is the sole provider of insurance for 8 percent of households, which are typically made up of one person (43 percent) who owns the home in which he/she lives (78 percent) and has a median income of $15,000. The householder typically is not employed (87 percent). Between 2005 and 2006, the percentage of rural households insured by Medicare increased from 6 percent to 8 percent. Rural and urban households insured through Medicare are nearly identical. In urban areas, Medicare is the sole provider of insurance for 8 percent of households.

Other government programs
Households also may be insured through other government programs, such as Medicaid (or Medical Assistance), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), adultBasic, or the military program CHAMPUS. Five percent of rural households fit this category. The typical household is made up of two adults and children. The average age of the adults is 40 and they have children living in the household (64 percent). The household is also likely to have an income below the poverty level (47 percent) and to participate in other government programs such as TANF, Food Stamps, and heating assistance. Twenty-two percent of the householders are unemployed and 66 percent have a high school diploma or less. Between 2005 and 2006, the percentage of households insured through government programs increased from 4 percent to 5 percent.  Rural and urban households in this category are very similar: one key difference, however, is that in urban areas, 2 percent of households are insured by other government programs only. 

No health insurance
According to data from the 2006 RuralPA-CPS, 8 percent of all rural households do not have health insurance. These households typically are made up of two adults, each of whom is about 44 years old, who are married (69 percent). The household does not have children (73 percent) and has a median household income of $42,000, or $3,000 below the median for all rural households. The householders typically are employed (65 percent) and have a high school diploma or less (61 percent). Between 2005 and 2006, the percentage of rural households without insurance declined 1 percentage point. These rural households share many similarities with urban households who do not have insurance in terms of age, marital status, and children. However, the 6 percent of urban households that do not have health insurance tend to have higher incomes, higher educational levels, and higher employment rates.  

Mixed sources of insurance
Thirty-nine percent of rural households are insured through multiple sources, such as employers and Medicare, or employers and privately purchased insurance. Among urban households, 38 percent are insured through multiple sources.

More numbers
For more information from the 2006 RuralPA-CPS, call (717) 787-9555 or email info@ruralpa.org for a copy of Rural by the Numbers 2006. Copies are also available online at www.ruralpa.org.

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Chairman’s Message
At the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, it’s often about data. Through our yearly research program, our in-house survey research, and our partnerships with federal and other state agencies, the Center has developed the state’s largest database to serve Pennsylvania’s 3.4 million rural residents.

A recent addition to that database is the results of our Current Population Survey, or RuralPA-CPS. We began the RuralPA-CPS in 2005 by surveying 2,000 rural households.

This year, we added 1,000 urban households to the survey to broaden our knowledge base throughout the Commonwealth. It is our intent to conduct the survey every year, as this real-time information helps to fill in the 10-year data gap between the U.S. Census Bureau’s decennial censuses; thus better informing everyone on issues such as employment, educational attainment, housing and health care.

Developing the rural database is certainly an undertaking, but sharing and presenting the data in practical, useful ways provides the real return on investment. From our interactive website containing demographic profiles of all 67 counties to our print publications, we focus on providing information to people at all levels of the decision-making process or program implementation stage.  

How can our data help you? Here’s an example: this year, the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest population estimates have shown that, between 2000 and 2005, the number of 20 to 29 year olds living in rural Pennsylvania has increased 15 percent. According to the 2006 RuralPA-CPS, we know several other facts about this age group: 35 percent are married, 2 percent are divorced or separated, and 63 percent are single; 29 percent are enrolled in school; 70 percent are employed and, of those, 70 percent are employed full-time and 30 percent are employed part-time; 18 percent of those who are employed are also enrolled in school; and 33 percent have an associate’s degree or higher. Those who are the head of a household tend to have children (62 percent), own their own home (63 percent), and have a median household income of about $40,000 a year.

The increase in this age group is significant for rural Pennsylvania for several reasons. People in this age group are buying homes and raising their children in rural areas, which means that housing and school enrollment will be affected, and employers may be finding a more educated workforce. Local tax bases may grow and community organizations may see an increase in volunteers.

With a bit more data, we can expand upon these points and make future projections. For example, out-migration of rural youth may slow, which would mean more workers and possibly more entrepreneurs in rural areas. The trend toward an aging population may slow and Pennsylvania’s rural areas may see a more diverse population with a more diverse set of needs.

This type of data helps us to better understand rural Pennsylvania’s population and its needs, and helps us to identify the programs or projects that will make sense for these areas. At the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, it’s often about the data for the good of all rural communities and the residents that call those communities home.

Senator John Gordner

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Rural Youth Education Project Progress Report
In 2004, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania contracted with Pennsylvania State University to begin a longitudinal study of rural Pennsylvania school students to understand their future aspirations, the factors influencing those aspirations, whether their plans change as they age and if they attain their goals and plans.

This study, which is being conducted by Dr. Anastasia R. Snyder, Dr. Diane K. McLaughlin, Dr. Leif Jensen, and Mary Ann Demi, was designed to survey a sample of Pennsylvania’s rural youth every two years, beginning in 2004, when the students were in the 7th and 11th grades, and continuing through 2010. Information from the first wave of that data collection is now available by calling or emailing the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or info@ruralpa.org. The report, Rural Youth Education Project, is also available on the Center’s website at www.ruralpa.org.

Since this is only the first wave of data collection, changes over time are not addressed in the report. The results from the overall study will contribute to the understanding of the educational, career and residential choices of rural youth, how these are related, and how they are influenced by family, schools and communities.  This information may be used in developing effective state and local policies that aim to promote youth educational aspirations and achievement and, at the same time, promote viable rural communities where youth want to live as adults.

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Behind the Numbers: Geographic Boundaries
What is a geographic boundary?
A visible or invisible marker that delineates where one area ends and another begins.

What are the major types of boundaries in Pennsylvania?
Administrative: state, county, municipal, school district, legislative district, zip code
Statistical: Census tract, block, block group, Core Based Statistical Area (CBSA)

Why do we need statistical boundaries?
To gather data on neighborhoods that may be smaller than the municipal or zip code area or on communities that may be larger than one county.  These data help describe the conditions and needs of residents within a defined area.

What data are available for each type of geographic boundary?
Most state and federal agencies release their data for the state and counties. Some also provide data for municipalities and CBSAs. Education agencies provide school-district-level data. The Census Bureau is the primary, and often sole, source of data at the tract, block group, block, congressional district, or zip code level.  State legislative district data usually must be computed.

Note: For a more detailed fact sheet on geographic boundaries, visit www.ruralpa.org/fact_sheets.html, call the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at (717) 787-9555 or email info@ruralpa.org.

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Pennsylvania’s Counties, Municipalities and School Districts
There are many ways to divide the state into smaller geographic entities. For example, Pennsylvania has 67 counties, 2,565 municipalities, and 501 school districts, but this was not always the case. Our counties were incorporated over a period of about 200 years between 1682 (Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester) and 1878 (Lackawanna) as more land was settled and counties were divided into new jurisdictions. 

The subdivisions of counties or municipalities, however, change much more frequently. The first municipality in the state, Springfield Township in Montgomery County, was incorporated in 1681 and the most recently incorporated is Northern Cambria Borough in Cambria County. This decade, however, also saw the disincorporation of two municipalities – Wyomissing Hills Borough in Berks County in 2002 and East Fork Township in Potter County in 2004 – to become part of neighboring municipalities.

Some counties have many municipalities and others have very few. In fact, Philadelphia County consists of just the city of Philadelphia while Allegheny County is made up of 130 municipalities. Luzerne County has the second highest number of municipalities at 76, while only Cameron and Forest counties have fewer than 10 municipalities. Twelve municipalities cross county lines.

School districts have also come and gone. In the 1960s, Pennsylvania consolidated its more than 2,000 districts into 505. The most recent merger in 1982 brought the total number to the current 501. A few districts are countywide, but most counties contain multiple districts. Many districts cross municipal boundaries and some even cross county lines.

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DCED Accepting Applications for Broadband Outreach Grants
The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) is accepting applications for the Broadband Outreach and Aggregation Fund, a program to provide grants to applicants that will implement outreach programs on the benefits, use and procurement of broadband services.

The program will also provide grants to help aggregate customer demand for broadband in communities with little or no service so that providers can respond to the demand for services in a more timely manner.
Eligible applicants are local governments, economic development organizations, schools, health care facilities, businesses and residential customers.

There is no deadline for submissions.                          

For more information or to apply for a grant, visit www.newPA.com and type “single application” into the search mechanism; email ra-dcedcs@state.pa.us for a single application; or call (800) 379-7448.

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Gang Membership Drops in Rural America
Gang membership rose 41 percent in rural areas from 1970 to 1998, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). But more recent data from DOJ indicates that criminal gang activity in areas with lower population densities has steadily declined since 1998.

The 2004 National Youth Gang Survey, released by DOJ in 2006, reports that only 12 percent of rural law enforcement officials, in counties with populations under 2,500, handled gang related issues from 2002 to 2004, down 12 percent since 1998. In counties with populations between 2,500 and 49,000, the number fell to 28 percent in 2004 from 37 percent in 1998.  Both suburban and urban counties experienced a decrease in gang-related crime between 1998 and 2004 as well, at 16 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Although those statistics are promising, it does not mean the nationwide gang problem is solved. Data from the 2004 DOJ survey indicates that at least 42 percent of local law enforcement officials across the country believe their problems with gangs have the potential to get worse before they get better. Moreover, the DOJ’s 2005 National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA) reports that the northeastern region of the U.S. has seen a slight increase in gang-related crime over the past five years. While the majority of criminal gang activity is confined to more densely populated suburban and urban areas, the 2005 NGTA warns that Hispanic gang membership, in particular, is on the rise in rural communities nationwide.

What does this mean for rural areas?  It means that rural areas should remain vigilant but not overreact. A bulletin, entitled Gangs in Small Towns and Rural Counties issued by the National Youth Gang Center, indicates that while some smaller city and rural county agencies nationwide noted gang problems from 1996 to 2001, most of these agencies said the problems were relatively small and sporadic. Further, the bulletin warns that “the sudden appearance of a gang problem in a particular community does not necessarily signify the beginning of a protracted gang problem, nor does it signify that it will inevitably become as serious a gang problem as observed in larger cities.” The authors attribute this to low, fluctuating rural populations that are not large enough to sustain gangs, where approximately half of the young members leave the gang within a year.  

To combat gang membership in rural areas, the report suggests that communities work to eliminate various social and community characteristics that might contribute to the organization of gangs and crime in general. Specifically, these characteristics include alienation of youth from family or schools, the lack of organized activities for young people, and limited access to jobs and careers. For communities already experiencing a gang problem, the National Youth Gang Center outlines a detailed plan of action to handle the situation.  For more information, visit the center’s website at www.iir.com/NYGC/.

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Did You Know . . .
68           Percent of Pennsylvania rural households have no children.

$643      What the average rural Pennsylvanian pays a month for a mortgage or rent. In urban areas, the average is $960 per month.

74           Percent of rural households that have one or more computers. In urban areas, 77 percent of households have one or more computers.

8             Percent of rural households that do not have health insurance. In urban areas, 6 percent do not have health insurance.

Data source: The Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s 2006 RuralPA-CPS

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Join RULE’s Fall 2007 Class
The Pennsylvania Rural Leadership Program (RULE) is now accepting applicants for its next class, RULE XII, which will begin in the fall of 2007.

RULE is the state leadership initiative that helps develop community leaders who have the skills and resources to meet the challenges of the changing communities of Pennsylvania.
While RULE participants hail from a variety of professions, including farming, homemaking, banking, and local, county and state government, all participants share a common commitment to solving problems and helping Pennsylvania thrive.

The program extends over a two-year period and provides the information needed to increase analytical, leadership, and group dynamic skills, and understanding of public, business, and government issues.

For more information about RULE XII, call or email Tara Stine at (814) 863-4679 or tstine@psu.edu. Information is also available at www.rule.psu.edu.

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Just the Facts: Cable Franchise Tax
In 2004, Pennsylvania’s rural municipalities were evenly split on those that collected and did not collect cable television franchise taxes, according to data from the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services (GCLGS).

Among the 1,627 rural municipalities that reported data on the tax to GCLGS, 50 percent collected fees and 50 percent did not. Among the 900 urban municipalities reporting data, 91 percent collected the fees and 9 percent did not.

Act 37 of 1995, the Video Programming Municipal Tax Authorization Act, allows municipalities to tax cable television providers who operate within the municipality.  The law caps the tax at 5 percent on the gross receipts from subscribers that are located within the municipality. Municipalities are not permitted to collect this tax from wireless or direct-to-home satellite providers.

Statewide in 2004, municipalities collected more than $85.3 million; rural municipalities collected $8.6 million or an average of $10,700 per municipality.

For the average rural municipality that collects the tax, the tax represented about 1 percent of total revenues. 
Among rural municipalities, boroughs were more likely than townships to collect the fee (63 percent versus 45 percent, respectively). Rural municipalities in western and eastern Pennsylvania also were more likely to collect this tax (57 and 56 percent, respectively) than rural municipalities in central Pennsylvania (39 percent). 

Data are not readily available to determine whether there is a relationship between the number of cable providers, the number of cable subscribers and the likelihood that a municipality will collect the tax.
However, data show that rural municipalities collecting the fee tend to have more residents with higher incomes, higher housing values and homeowner-ship rates, and larger populations than rural municipalities not collecting the tax. 

Municipalities Reporting Revenue from Cable Television Tax

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