Rural school divisions unite for more resources, influence in Richmond

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WYTHEVILLE, Va. (WDBJ7) There's no question rural school divisions don't always get resources they need.

Several dozen small or rural schools formed a new group Monday to try and change that.

They hope, by teaming together, they'll make an impression lawmakers in Richmond can't ignore.

Rural and small school divisions have watched funding drop, students leave, and teachers quit to find a better paying job. Today school leaders made a pledge to make a big change.

"A lot of the small rural schools in Virginia lack the kind of political voice to influence legislation and also to influence budget priorities," said Jeff Perry, the Wythe County schools superintendent.

About 60 small or rural school divisions throughout Virginia joined forces in Wythe County to make a difference.

They formed this coalition that puts them all on the same page to hopefully give them support from Richmond.

"We were able to influence legislation last year and so this year we've got even more school divisions coming together and so we think that will increase our legislative influence," Perry said.

Their concerns are eye opening. According to superintendents from rural divisions, since 2008 Southwest Virginia schools are having to find funding from other resources than the state. Fewer tax dollars are going to Virginia's rural schools. Student enrollments are also dropping, in some rural counties as much as 21 percent since 2009.

Those challenges make it difficult to retain teachers, or have competitive salaries. And building maintenance is often neglected simply because there isn't enough school money. This group isn't happy with any of those statistics.

"We really do think this will be the organization that will help us gain that kind of influence and gain that kind of voice that will enable us to impact legislation and budgets," Perry said.

The school divisions made priorities today as a group they want changed.

Those include more school funding, including construction funds, fix teacher shortages, and cut unfunded mandates.

The group isn't focusing on obstacles by being rural, they're searching for solutions.