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Iowa Task Force Exploring Online Classes to Avert Consolidation

A group of Iowa educators and lawmakers is exploring alternatives to school district consolidation, and one potential option is an increased reliance on online learning.

Historically, consolidation has been an answer for many states facing declining enrollments and funds. In Iowa, state Republican and Democratic lawmakers have organized a rural education task force to study the issue and come up with alternatives, according to a recent story in The Sioux City Journal. The state has seen 117 school district reorganizations since 1965.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad proposed earlier this month expanding Iowa Learning Online, an online education program facilitated by the state's Department of Education. Some see that as an option to avoid consolidation.

At least one study has shown that sharing some services, such as distance education, can work well for students and be a compromise between autonomy and consolidation.

The rural task force in Iowa investigated that issue by gathering at a centralized site where rural students from four districts take dual-credit classes through a community college. The program enabled the school districts to stay in tact, although one educator argued it removed the best students from its classrooms, according to the story.

Lawmakers didn't make any decisions but agreed change is needed.

"Otherwise, we're just going to have these dying towns with no schools and no identities, and that's no good," Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, told the Journal.

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