The Olean Times Herald, a Western New York daily, spent a year investigating the education system in rural school districts, which account for roughly 300 of the more than 700 districts statewide. It found rural districts — with shrinking enrollments and a declining tax base — see a high rate of student migration between districts only topped by those in New York City, as parents struggle to place their children in the schools that offer the best resources.
The Times Herald also found a new school system was proposed as legislation numerous times to help New York rural schools, but since 2011 it has been apparently blocked by downstate lawmakers and the state’s powerful teachers’ union.
For the series, one reporter (in a newsroom employing only three full-time news reporters) collected and analyzed data from the New York State Education Department, including nonresident student data that had not previously been made public. He also consulted with four specialists in the field of rural education and interviewed roughly 30 superintendents, teachers, recent graduates, parents and lawmakers across a three-county area.
The series was done in collaboration with the Investigative Editing Corps.