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Proposed Changes in Vermont a Threat to Rural Schools, Report Says

Recently proposed education initiatives in Vermont will do little to improve schools and may negatively impact the state's small, rural schools, according to a report from the Penn State Center for Rural Education and Communities.

The report, "Vermont Educational Reform: A Balanced Approach to Equity and Funding," examined proposed improvements such as school district consolidation and the elimination of a grant for small schools. After reviewing data on consolidation, the authors of the report concluded that consolidating school districts would not benefit Vermont. "National and local research clearly shows consolidation does not produce financial savings or lower per-pupil costs," wrote the authors.

The report also looked at a recent proposal to eliminate Vermont's Small Schools Grant, which provides financial support for schools with a two-year average enrollment of less than 100 students. The report's authors wrote that "Such proposals fail to account for the critical role small schools play in sustaining their local communities," and said that those schools should be "capitalized to sustain local communities."

Vermont has one of the largest percentages of rural students in the country, according to the Rural School and Community Trust, and that student population is largely white. The state has one of the smallest percentages of rural students with disabilities and about 33 percent of rural students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, compared to the national average of more than 46 percent. 

Nationwide, rural schools frequently face the threat of consolidation as states hope to save money or improve schools. In Vermont last year, legislators considered consolidating the state's 273 districts into fewer than 60 districts, to save on administrative costs. In South Carolina, lawmakers are considering consolidation to provide more supervision for struggling schools

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