In 2003–04, over half of all operating school districts and one-third of all public schools were in rural areas, more than in any other locale. However, fewer students were enrolled in public schools in rural areas than in suburbs or cities.
In 2003–04, some 96,000 public elementary and secondary schools, located in 14,000 school districts, served over 48 million students in the United States (table 1.1). The distribution of districts, schools, and students across locales highlights some key differences in the size and nature of education in rural America, compared to education in towns, suburbs, and cities.
In 2003–04, more than half of all operating school districts were located in rural areas (56 percent), while 20 percent of districts were located in suburban areas, 18 percent in towns, and 6 percent in cities (figure 1.1). About one-third of all U.S. public schools were located in rural areas (30,000), more than in suburbs (27,000), cities (25,000), or towns (15,000). Fewer students, however, were enrolled in public schools in rural areas than in suburbs and cities. Public schools in rural areas enrolled 10 million students compared to 17 million in suburban areas and 15 million in cities.
Rural areas located close to or on the fringe of urbanized areas, referred to as "fringe rural," differed from rural areas located further from urbanized areas, referred to as "distant rural" and "remote rural," in their proportions of districts, schools, and students (see the introductory section "Measuring Rural Education" for detailed descriptions of these locale types). Public schools in fringe rural areas enrolled a larger percentage of all students (11 percent) than public schools in distant rural (7 percent) and remote rural (3 percent) areas. However, the percentage of all school districts located in fringe rural areas (11 percent) was smaller than that in distant rural (22 percent) and remote rural (23 percent) areas (see table A-1.1 for a comparison of all locale types).