School stories can be hot topics for the fall

July 6, 2015

By Al Cross
Into the Issues

School’s out, but it will resume next month, and recently The Rural Blog has had several items about education that could be localized or used as stories.

The trend toward four-day weeks in rural school districts continues, as they find it saves money on transportation and food and helps attract and retain teachers. But some low-income districts in Kentucky switched back to five-day weeks because test scores dropped and there was concern that some students were not getting the meals they needed. Our update is at

The hottest issue in Congress involving schools is what to do with the nutrition standards passed in 2010, when Democrats ran the place and Michelle Obama’s campaign against youth obesity was hitting high gear. Republicans control Congress now and have vowed to change the standards by Sept. 30, when they will technically expire (but remain in effect unless replaced). The Rural Blog has followed this controversy closely; our latest item looked at complaints by school-food workers about the difficulty with foods such as whole-wheat pasta. It’s at

Schools and law-enforcement agencies are teaming up to use technology to catch motorists illegally passing school buses, an issue that is particularly bad in rural areas where roads are more dangerous and pedestrians are more exposed and could be struck by a vehicle. We picked up a story from The Daily Tribune News in Cartersville, GA, at

Bullying is a problem for schools, and it’s a myth that it happens only in large schools, a bullying expert told an audience at the University of Kentucky. “I’m more worried about children in a rural school,” said Malcolm Smith of Plymouth (NH) State University. Bullying can be a huge problem in a rural school because there’s nowhere to hide, everyone is often into everyone else’s business, and an issue can escalate into a feud when families get involved. Our story is at

The education and guidance that children get before they enter school can determine their future. The latest research to show that comes from the University of Kansas, which found that it’s important to use a wide vocabulary and encouraging language when talking with preschoolers. Education Week wrote about it and we picked up the story at



The Rural Blog specializes in delivering county-by-county data on a wide range of topics. One of the most interesting maps and databases lately has been the first county-level analysis of drinking in the U.S. To find out where your county ranks in drinking, heavy drinking and binge drinking among men and women, go to

Manufacturing, long a staple of many rural areas, is no longer the nation’s major private employer by category, Tim Henderson reported for Stateline. Manufacturing employed the most people in about 30 percent of counties in 2008, but in only 25 percent in 2013. At the same time, health care became the biggest employer in almost 33 percent of counties. See the data at

What percentage of your county’s public-school children live in poverty? You can find out at How about the health of your senior citizens? A database and map showing the percentage of seniors with multiple chronic conditions can be found at

Pope Francis has had his say on global warming and climate change. Thanks to statistical modeling, you can find out what people in your county probably think about the issue. The Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication worked on the data with the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, and you can access it via

We follow the latest reports on climate change; our latest update reported research showing that global warming is not slowing down, as some reports had indicated. It’s at



With the presidential race beginning, RFD-TV and Mediacom Communications are starting Rural Town Hall, a series of live, one-hour primetime programs featuring presidential candidates and their respective takes on rural and agricultural issues, filmed in Iowa. Read about it at

Political campaigns are attracting more money, thanks in large measure to the U.S. Supreme Court, but voters rarely seem to care about the influence of money, perhaps thinking that “everyone does it.” But new research shows that campaign contributors are much more likely to get meetings with members of Congress; we reported it at

Lobbyists have been increasingly focusing on local politicians, especially those from smaller state legislative districts, The Washington Post reported. We took note at

Letters praising President Obama’s recent move to discourage use of antibiotics by livestock producers popped up last month in dozens of newspapers. It appears to be an ‘Astroturf’ campaign masquerading as grass-roots opinion. Jim Romenesko reported it and so did we, at



When the Environmental Protection Agency issued its long-awaited report on hydraulic fracturing and underground water supplies, friends and foes of fracking used it to provide talking points. We saw through the rhetoric and reported what the study really said: That there is no evidence of widespread damage from fracking, but it does pose a risk to groundwater, and EPA couldn’t be definitive because the oil and gas industry wouldn’t share some of its data. Read it at

As you might expect, farmers face a greater risk of getting skin cancer, but few of them take few steps to prevent it, according to a recent poll of farmers by the National Farm Medicine Center. We reported on it at

Increased use of heroin and opioid painkillers in rural America is creating a hepatitis C epidemic that small towns, especially in Appalachia and the Midwest, are ill equipped to fight. We’ve had several stories on this; the latest is at

If you do or see good work that deserves national notice or could help other rural journalists, by appearing on The Rural Blog, email me at so we can publish it at


Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before spending 26 years at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Since 2004 he has been director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. See

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