In response to the Department of Education’s decision to cut $1.2 million from Maine’s rural, low-income schools made available through the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden sent a letter to Secretary Betsy DeVos urging her to restore this vital funding.
Senator Collins coauthored the law creating REAP in 2002 as well as the reauthorization in 2015. REAP established the Rural Low-Income Schools Program (RLIS), which is critical to ensuring rural districts are able to overcome the unique challenges associated with geographic isolation and poverty. Last year, 149 Maine schools were eligible for the RLIS program, but an abrupt decision by the Department of Education to change its criteria will eliminate from eligibility more than 100 of those schools in Maine. Senator Collins first raised this problem with the Secretary of Education last week.
“We are writing to express our strong opposition to the decision by the Department of Education to alter the eligibility determination of the Rural Low-Income Schools Program (RLIS) this year,” Senators Collins and King and Representatives Pingree and Golden wrote. “This change in methodology, implemented without consultation or prior notice, will reduce significantly the number of Maine school districts eligible to receive funding under the RLIS program and result in a $1.2 million reduction in funding. We are deeply concerned about the significant and sudden financial strain that this change will impose on Maine’s rural schools and students and urge the Department to prevent these cuts from taking effect.”
For 16 years, Maine has qualified for RLIS because the Department of Education has measured school district poverty levels by the percentage of students receiving free lunch. Although free lunch data is an important measure of poverty for rural districts, this year, the Department decided that it will no longer allow Maine to use this data to determine eligibility for the RLIS program.