Monday, January 16, 2023

What would happen if we paid as much attention to rural schools and hospitals as we have to the so-called "border crisis?"

A map like the one above of the 2020 presidential election is perhaps the best way to capture the political divide between urban and rural America. It is so deep that Republicans have beaten Democrats in rural counties by a margin of about 47 points. Hence, we see endless articles on the left about how the party can improve that performance.

I recently wrote about how impressed I've been with Jessica Piper, who ran as a "dirt road Democrat" in rural Missouri. As a teacher, she has focused on how efforts in Missouri to use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools are decimating rural public schools.  Take a listen.

One of the main reasons so many rural public schools in Missouri have gone to a 4-day week is because of a teacher shortage due to the fact that the state ranks last in the nation for average starting teacher salary. Now Republicans in the state are considering legislation that would pull even more money out of public schools. As Piper points out, rural Missourians don't have access to the private schools the state is funding. As she says, there are no private or religious schools within 60 miles of where she lives in northwest Missouri. 

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and her Republican colleagues in the state legislature also want to take money from public schools to fund so-called "school choice." J.D. Scholten outlined how that will affect the rural areas of his state.

Scholten notes that 75% of the school districts in Iowa don't have a private school. So the Republican voucher program will only benefit students in 25% of the state's school districts - which are obviously concentrated in urban/metro areas. 

While it's true that Republicans are nationally working on policies to defund schools, it is likely that their success will be felt first and foremost in rural areas where public schools are already feeling the pinch financially. On the ground, Democrats like Piper and Scholten are sounding the alarm. The rest of the party should be supporting their efforts. 

The other issue that could be important for rural Democrats is the continuing collapse of rural hospitals. 

Since 2010, 120 rural hospitals have closed, according to University of North Carolina researchers. And today, 453 of the 1,844 rural hospitals still operating across the country should be considered vulnerable for closure.

The factors affecting this crisis are multiple. But it is clear that the states where the situation is most dire are those that have refused the expansion of Medicaid that was included in Obamacare. According to a report from the Chartis Center for Rural Health, "being in a Medicaid expansion state decreases by 62 percent the likelihood of a rural hospital closing. Conversely, being in a non-expansion state makes it more likely a rural hospital will close."

When I think of these two issues facing rural Americans, I am reminded that Republicans and right wing media have managed to convince us all that there is an immigrant crisis at our Southern border. Those claims are a bit specious. But I have to wonder what would happen if Democrats and mainstream media were to give the same kind of attention to collapsing public schools and hospitals in rural communities all over the country. It would sure be nice to find out.


  1. I appreciate that the "if" includes the media, not just expecting Democrat outcries to get airplay and reach voters. What that comes down to is another big if, what if voters actually voted their interest? The whole immigration thing is designed simultaneously to give them another and more dubious target for grievance and muddying their thinking about what causes the grievances they rightly feel.

  2. This article underscores the intentional efforts by Republicans to divide the nation's citizens into an 'us' (read: white, racist, economically advantaged, educationally superior, class of voters living comfortably behind their 'gated communities') against the remainder of the nation's citizens who live in poverty areas, areas of low educational achievement, racially homogenous neighborhoods, and areas that lack hope. And, yes, I'm describing my own Red state where the privileged can afford to ignore the needs of their rural neighbors and blame them for their own poverty. And, that 'school choice' slop is simply another way of perpetuating educational separation.


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