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Consolidation Watch: Rural Iowa Losing Schools

Falling enrollments and shrinking state funds nudged voters in a dozen school districts in western and northern Iowa to OK a round of mergers beginning next year.

The Des Moines Register reports that a dozen rural Iowa districts will shrink to six, and others are courting the idea.

What's behind the somewhat unusual public support for merger? Vanishing students and vanishing state incentive money that's been keeping many rural districts afloat.

Consolidation is usually met with angry opposition, but in many of these districts merger will mean little more than downsizing from two superintendents, school boards and budgets to one. Residents in many communities already agreed to a new name, mascot, and school colors when they began to share sports teams two years ago.

What opposition exists is in communities losing their high schools to other communities, the Register reports.

Iowa's enrollment peaked in the 1969-70 school year at 738,913 students and has declined steadily since, based on state Education Department numbers. In 2008-2009 510,916 students were enrolled. The number of school districts in Iowa will drop to 353 next year, down from 458 in 1965, when the state legislature passed a law requiring all areas of the state to become part of a school district with a high school. A few years before that, the state had more than 1,500 districts.

Arkansas Update: No word yet on whether a judge in Arkansas has decided whether to throw out entirely a lawsuit filed by Friends of Weiner School District charging that closing rural schools in small agricultural communities amounts to agroterrorism. The judge earlier this month declined to grant an injunction stopping the merger. Read this earlier Rural Education blog post.

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