Rural Majority

In Kansas and throughout the nation, rural schools are facing big challenges.

A Syracuse USD 494 bus stops to pick up a student on a 65-mile morning route.
Photo by Thad Allton, Topeka Capital-Journal

In this eye-opening six-part series, Celia Llopis-Jepsen takes readers deep inside rural and remote schools in Kansas, which educate just over half of the state’s students. Readers learn of the little-known problems facing these schools: low enrollment, teacher recruitment and housing shortages, changing demographics, and the logistics of busing students from remote farms. Many rural schools are also facing serious financial difficulties as they grapple with budget and state income tax cuts.

Llopis-Jepsen also explores and analyzes how state policies and a lack of resources may be impeding solutions to rural schools’ most pressing problems, such as improving services for English learners and enriching children’s lives with the arts and school libraries. Her reporting reveals a Kansas that is locked in a long-running tug-of-war over school finance, a battle that could ultimately hurt rural schools and the students they serve.

This series appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper and online during March 21-26, 2015.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen’s story, “Remote Schools Struggle to Fill Positions,” has received a 2016 first-place award in education reporting from the Kansas Press Association. The series was a finalist in the feature/single topic category for EWA’s 2015 National Awards for Education Reporting and won gold in the general news category at the 2016 Kansas City Press Club Awards.

Read Education Week’s article on this series, published January 24, 2016.

Read the Rural Blog’s article on this series, published March 25, 2015.

Story Links

Part 1: Rural Majority: Education system in rural areas undergoing big change

An overview on rural education in Kansas and the challenges rural and remote schools face, in Kansas and throughout the nation.

Part 2: Remote schools struggle to fill positions

Teachers are in high demand in western Kansas, forcing recruiters to develop creative search efforts and to cast a wide net.

Part 3: School consolidation complex, controversial

School district consolidation is one of the most taboo subjects in Kansas K-12 education, and many rural residents want it to remain a local decision.

Part 4: Budget wrangling leaves schools on financial roller coaster

The Elkhart school district fights to keep alternative programs.

Part 5: Technical centers play part in plan for economic growth

Regions in Kansas are finding ways to boost average income.

Part 6: Analysis: Lack of collaboration on state policies leaves children in the fray

Career education initiative is an example of a policy with broad support.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen covers Kansas education for the Topeka Capital-Journal. She has been honored with awards from the Kansas Press Association for her investigative and education reporting, and from the Kansas City Press Club for her general reporting. She is a former writer and copy editor for the Taipei Times in Taiwan. She has a master’s in journalism from Columbia University, and a master’s in bilingualism studies from Stockholm University in Sweden.