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The Yonder Report: News from rural America - May 9, 2024

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News from rural America.

Audio file

Some small towns in North Dakota worry they'll go to pot if marijuana is legalized, school vouchers are becoming a litmus test for Republicans, and Bennington, Vermont implements an innovative substance abuse recovery program.


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For the Daily Yonder and Public News Service, this is the news from rural America.

Public schools play a central role in small town America.

That's one reason rural legislators have rejected school vouchers, which let families use taxpayer dollars on private school tuition.

But in spite of accusations of a welfare for the rich, education reporter Jennifer Berkshire says Republicans are making it a defining issue.

There has been a fairly successful effort to define school choice as a kind of litmus test issue for Republicans.

The governor of Texas successfully ousted rural Republicans opposed to vouchers from the state house.

Nationally, Berkshire says the GOP has been ramping up the fight for vouchers by attacking public education.

Many worry the fight and the vouchers will weaken their local schools.

Because the school is more than a school.

It's the largest employer.

It's the place where the community gathers.

In Bennington, Vermont, an innovative substance abuse recovery program looks to be working.

Bea Partella has more.

The partnership between first responders and the Turning Point Center was born of frustration.

Director Margaie Diamond says Vermont Health Department data set off alarms.

The folks who overdosed and died had had multiple interactions with law enforcement and yet still we lost them.

We decided we can do better than that.

Collaboration with the emergency medical system lets the center better identify people in need.

To build trust, they say they approach drug users without judgment or demands.

We've been invited into people's kitchens and we have been able to really connect with people at a different level.

We meet people where they're at.

One in seven participants continue toward recovery, a relatively high success rate.

Diamond says they hope to serve all of Bennington County soon.

I'm Bea Partella.

Recreational marijuana is legal in half the states and data show they have lower rates of opioid addiction.

But North Dakota voters have rejected legalization twice.

Still, legal pot advocates aren't giving up.

Petitions are circulating to get it back on the November ballot.

One voice in the debate is Tom Erdman, mayor of Carrington, population 2,500.

He doesn't expect to be a hotbed for sales but says the town's budget could benefit.

Any tax revenue that we get, we don't send it back, that's for sure.

We keep it and use it in places where we need the funds to go.

Dickinson mayor, Scott Decker, worries about conflict with the state's oil and gas jobs where workers have to pass drug tests.

That's just the standard in the industry.

Safety is paramount.

Meanwhile, petition organizers say their proposed measure is pretty restrictive compared to other states.

For the Daily Yonder and Public News Service, I'm Roz Brown.

For more rural stories, visit

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