Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Closing and consolidation: Is this the future of rural education?

After a 10-year battle in the Arkansas courts, the Lake View School District in the Mississippi River Delta was awarded equal funding from the state budget. However, “within a few years of this decision, the Arkansas school funding system was dramatically overhauled,with significant increases in funding for operations and facilities and with more emphasis on getting the money to high-needs districts,” but it included A mandate that all districts with fewer than 350 students be closed, and that included Lake View, writes Marty Strange, policy director for the Rural School and Community Trust, in the latest edition of Phi Delta Kappan Magazine.

Lake View is not alone. Strange identifies four main factors for mandated closings of rural schools or districts: increasing per-pupil costs due to declining enrollment, state budget cuts, disparities in economic fortunes of a state's rural and urban areas, and court decisions like the one in the Lake View case. Strange reports that these problems are exasperated by state and federal funding formulas that limit funding to rural areas. For example, much state aid is based on district enrollment size. To read Strange's entire report, with details about the federal funding formulas, click here.

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