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The promise of working in rural settings

Foundations working to improve education in the United States focus primarily on urban issues: from the groundbreaking work of Geoffrey Canada in New York to the model West Oakland Education Innovation Zone out west. Some of the best work in improving education and educational opportunities has taken place in high density areas. The McClure Foundation’s work is unique in that it focuses on removing barriers to education in our rural state. 

I had the opportunity to explore these differences, along with McClure board member Anne Mook, at the annual Grantmakers in Education conference. The school district in Los Angeles within which the conference was being held has more students enrolled than our entire state. For those curious, Vermont had 87,774 students enrolled in public schools last year. Different playing fields, certainly. But we knew that rural grantmaking can be just as impactful as larger-scale programs and we were excited to talk with national funders about our work.

We went to the conference with a “we’re just from rural Vermont” attitude and we were surprised at how many national funders were impressed with the McClure approach and how many grantmakers were interested in learning more about what we do. Specifically, our colleague foundations reinforced the importance of focusing on a narrow point of leverage such as the McClure’s commitment to removing barriers to access to postsecondary education. A number of large national foundations are also realizing the benefits of using rural states such as Vermont as a place to incubate new ideas that can be transferred to many settings: rural and urban. Let’s work to expand Vermont’s role as an incubator for new approaches to education and continue to share our findings—good and bad—with our peers. 

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