School Consolidation

At the same time as rural residents are reiterating the importance of education, rural schools continue to consolidate.

The elementary school will not reopen in the fall because of declining enrollment and budget constraints in the Central Community School District. The story is the same for the Whiteside County river town of Albany, Ill., which lost its small Albany Grade School for the same reasons.

They join the list of 17 Quad-City region schools that have closed since 2000–seven this year alone.

Education officials in Illinois say 401 public schools have closed since 2000. In Iowa, about 90 public schools have closed since 2000, with rural communities hit the hardest because of declining population and enrollment, aging buildings, increasing costs and shrinking budgets.

While such moves might be necessary for districts faced with shrinking budgets, there is sufficient evidence that it does little to improve the quality of education, and may in fact do just the opposite.

I say the move only might be necessitated by district budget problems because I believe that there are other more creative solution.

The most obvious of these is to return to the funding source, in most cases the state governments, and demand adequate money. It’s a strategy that would likely pay off in the end for the state anyway. With higher graduation rates for rural schools, and the increased economic activity generated in rural communities that have schools, it is easy to imagine how a positive return on investing in rural schools might be generated.

Other options that school boards should consider before shuttering the doors include consolidating administrators and offering distance learning classes to high school students.

The rural school that I graduated from in northwest Iowa had its own share of poor teachers, but I don’t imagine it’s too much better in larger schools. I graduated with 31 classmates, quite small by most standards.

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