Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Graduate School


Public Policy and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Eugenia F. Toma

Second Advisor

Dr. Ronald W. Zimmer


Rural education issues in K-12 public schools are understudied despite a large rural student population in the U.S. This dissertation studies how different federal definitions of rural change how rural school districts and their diverse communities are portrayed, in comparison to their non-rural counterparts. This study also explores the recent federal rural policy changes on rural district revenue and student academic outcomes.

This dissertation consists of three descriptive essays. The first chapter shows how we choose to define ‘rural’ changes what differences are accentuated between rural and non-rural districts. Definitions of ‘rural’ is closely related to who gains access to federal rural financial assistance. I find that both rural and non-rural school districts show differences in their district characteristics and level of district revenue when two different federal rural definitions are applied to define which districts belong to ‘rural’.

The second chapter investigates a federal rural financial assistance initiative, the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) and its recent policy changes on funding eligibility requirements. I find new rural federal funding policy changes increased the number of poor rural districts receiving the funding. The new policy change also allowed rural districts to make more independent financial decisions by choosing their preferred program to receive the rural funding when they are qualified for both Rural Low-Income School Program (RLIS) and Small, Rural School Achievement Program (SRSA).

The third chapter explores the relationship between current rural policy changes and student achievement gaps between rural and non-rural school districts, and within rural districts. I look at the historical student achievement gap trends and find the interesting patterns that existed before and after the REAP policy changes. Rural school districts receiving additional funding from REAP program are observed to have increases in student test scores, especially for rural districts with high fractions of minority and poverty-status students.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)