SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to provide additional funding to Utah's small, rural schools was advanced unanimously Wednesday by the House Education Committee.

HB373, sponsored by Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, would appropriate an additional $3 million to the Necessarily Existent Small Schools program.

The bill seeks to address the lack of parity between Utah's schools in urban areas along the Wasatch Front and those schools from less populated areas that are often unable to provide the same level of course offerings and educational opportunity to students.

McIff presented members of the committee with comparisons of the core and elective course offerings at various schools in the state, as well as statistics on the disparity between urban and rural student ACT scores and college attendance rates.

Rural schools typically have high graduation rates, he said, but those students struggle to transition to higher education, partly due to a lack of Advanced Placement and concurrent enrollment courses, as well as electives such as foreign language education.

"The disparity, as you will see, is almost overwhelming," McIff said. "Rural students have lower college entrance exam scores and are less likely to enter college. That is a very troubling but true fact."

He acknowledged that providing additional per-pupil funding to rural schools has an effect on the funding available for larger urban schools in the state, but added that the $3 million requested in the bill is less than one-fourth of 1 percent of the overall education budget.

Several lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill, saying that all students in the state should receive an equal educational opportunity.

"I really relate with these kids coming from a farm background," said Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights. "Those rural kids, without some of this money, don't receive the same kind of experience."

The bill will now go before the House for debate and consideration.