WASHINGTON (AP) – An Education Department task force will review the problems facing rural schools as they try to meet new requirements in the education bill that President Bush signed last year, Education Secretary Rod Paige said Wednesday.

The legislation was intended to improve academic performance by emphasizing school and student accountability. Some lawmakers are concerned about how its requirements affect small school districts.

For example, rules that require instructors to hold at least a college degree in the subjects they teach most often could be a hardship for districts where a few faculty members cover all subjects.

The act “is a very complex way of doing business and changed the whole culture of education,” Paige said. “We’re just learning a lot of the unique problems that rural schools face.”

Deputy Education Secretary Bill Hansen will lead the task force. Department officials plan to meet with school administrators from rural states next month to hear their concerns.

Also Wednesday, lawmakers announced new congressional working groups on rural education issues.

Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., who will serve on the House group, said they will work on issues such as getting money for programs to teach students with disabilities and for higher education.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who is serving on the Senate caucus, welcomed the task force but urged Paige to restore funds for rural education programs that had been cut in the president’s current budget proposal.

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