Originally founded as the Department of Rural Education, the NREA has existed in the United States for the past 116 years. The official name may have changed over the years, but the changes directly correlate with the demographic changes of rural populations and the mission of its membership (NREA History, 2007, 8-10).

The Ealy Days 1907–1945

The NREA, representing rural educators in the United States, has a long and proud history among professional organizations. Founded in 1907 by 28 individuals who petitioned the National Education Association (NEA) Board of Directors for approval as a new department within the organization, its title for the next 10 years was the Department of Rural and Agricultural Education.

In 1918, three professional groups, the National Association of State Supervisors and Inspectors of Rural Schools, the County Superintendent Section of the NEA, and the National Association of Personnel Engaged in Preparation of Rural Educators, joined the Department of Rural Education. For the first time, agricultural education was no longer included in the organization’s title, helping to pave the way for change in the organization’s leadership in the succeeding ten years. During that period, only six presidents were from colleges or universities, and only one was associated with an agricultural school. The other presidents of the Department of Rural Education were school administrators.

Defining Our Organization 1975–1986

The years between 1975 and 1980 were difficult for the organization. The relationship with the sponsoring organization, NEA, had become stressful, as NEA’s mission changed and appeared to conflict with the majority of the membership of REA.

What About the Quality of Services?

At the same time, serious questions arose about the quality of services being provided to REA by the NEA staff. Most of the members of REA were rural school administrators, administrators of intermediate units, and college or university personnel. The administrators from the intermediate units were concerned about the issues rural schools faced because in many cases, these schools were their predominant clients. These superintendents felt more comfortable in association with other administrators.

What About Issues of Affiliation?

During these five years, R/REA members were occupied with issues concerning affiliation, such as whether the organization should continue its affiliation with NEA or become an independent organization and employ an executive director whose first allegiance would be to REA.

Time to Consider the Options

Each option had its proponents. A small group of members representative of each group within the membership considered the options for several months. By the 1980 annual meeting in Portland, Oregon, this group, chaired by Anita Lohr, superintendent of Pima County, Arizona, presented the membership with the first set of bylaws. The membership voted to institute several controversial changes during this meeting, including discontinuing affiliation with NEA, issuing a contract with Colorado State University to provide administrative services for REA, purchasing the service of an executive director on a part-time basis (Joseph T. Newlin was appointed to this position in the fall of 1980), creating a delegate assembly to become the policy-making body of the organization, and raising annual membership dues from $15 to $50.

Would it Work?

Some members felt that the dues issue would end the organization because people would not be willing to pay $50 to belong to REA. Others were upset because affiliation with AASA had been rejected. After 1980, the organization was different. Some members chose to keep their membership. AASA created an affiliate for educational service agencies (AAESA), and some of the intermediate unit superintendents dropped from REA, but many chose to hold dual membership.

A Common Bond Continues

Several of the people responsible for the development of the AAESA had been leaders in REA, and today there exists a common bond between the memberships of the two organizations.

Resolutions & Budget Decisions

As the organization worked to define its mission, two charges surfaced from it: resolutions, and from the program, budget decisions. These changes were 1) to be the national voice for rural education and 2) to sponsor the research that would provide validity to that “voice.”

So important was the concept of being a national voice that the organization changed its name in 1986 to the National Rural Education Association (NREA).


The NREA began its charter office on the campus of Colorado State University in 1986. Then executive director, Joe Newlin, ran the organization for 21 years and was the driving spirit of the organization’s members from NEA to becoming a viable and important entity in improving rural education throughout the country.

With the sudden death of Mr. Newlin in 2002, Bob Mooneyham was hired to manage and run operations of the NREA, and the main office was moved to from Colorado to Oklahoma. The organization remained in Oklahoma until 2007.

At that time, the executive committee hired Dr. John Hill from Indiana, and Purdue University became the host institute until 2016.

In 2017, the organization moved to Tennessee. Dr. Allen Pratt was hired as director to serve in the leadership role at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Education.

The office currently remains at this location.