Education Choice in Rural America


Every child deserves to attend a school that can best meet his or her individual learning needs. Where a child lives should not be a limiting factor, and no school is the best fit for every child who happens to live nearby. Education choice policies have the potential to expand educational options for students in rural areas.


Rural areas have many more educational options than is commonly known, from private schools and charter schools to micro-schools and virtual learning.

  • About seven in 10 rural families live within 10 miles of a private elementary school.
  • Although charter schools are less common in rural areas, they are more common in states that have policies that promote charters in rural areas. In Arizona, more than eight out of 10 students live in the same zip code as at least one charter school.
  • High-quality virtual schools are available to anyone with a decent internet connection. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 72 percent of rural Americans report having broadband at home, up 9 percentage points from 2016.
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States with robust educational choice policies have seen a significant increase in educational options in rural areas.

  • Enrollment in rural private schools has doubled in Florida over the past two decades and doubled in Arizona over the past eight years. Both states have robust education choice policies, including K–12 Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and tax scholarships.
  • In rural areas, there is a rise of micro-schools, a reinterpretation of the one-room school. For example, the Prenda microschool network has grown from a few kids in Arizona in 2018 to 3,000+ students in 300+ microschools in 6 states by 2022.
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Expanding educational choice does not hurt rural school districts. Indeed, the best evidence suggests that education choice policies spur rural school improvement.

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Education choice policies such as K–12 ESAs are very popular, especially in rural areas.

  • Public support for education choice is strong. In a February 2022 RealClearOpinion poll, 72 percent of respondents supported school choice policies.
  • Support for electoral politics is also high in rural areas. In the March 2022 Republican primary in Texas, 88 percent of voters agreed that “parents should have the right to choose schools for their children, public or private, and funding should follow the student.” Some of the highest levels of support came from rural Texas.
  • Similarly, a January 2022 poll found that 70 percent of rural Oklahomans favor school choice, while only 25 percent oppose it.
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K–12 ESAs allow parents to choose learning environments that align with their values ​​and best meet their child’s individual learning needs. Nine states now offer ESAs, and several are working to adopt ESAs to expand access to education for all.

Policymakers should make it easier to open and operate charter schools, especially in rural areas, by lowering barriers to entry for charter operators, allowing multiple charter authorizers, providing longer charters, and reducing red tape.

For more information, see Heritage’s Rural Revival: Educational Choice in Rural America’.


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