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Oklahoma Eyes Consolidation for Small, Rural Schools

Oklahoma's governor has told the state it's time to talk about restructuring schools, and consolidation is a big part of that conversation.

The state has 521 districts, ranking it 8th nationally for the number of school districts per capita, according to a story in the Oklahoman. More than 75 percent of those have less than 1,000 students, and more than half have less than 500 students.

That said, the state has seen more than 100 school consolidations or annexations since 1977, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute in Tulsa, Okla.

Lawmakers have presented an interim study on the issue, but no decisions have been made, according to a story in the Tulsa Beacon in Tulsa, Okla. State leaders are looking for ways to reduce education spending, which is $2.3 billion, or about a third of the state's $6.8 billion overall budget.

As a starting point for discussion, legislators looked at districts with less than 250 students serving less than 200 square miles that receive at least $200,000 in state money and had an average ACT score lower than the state average. Thirty-two districts met that criteria and would be considered for consolidation using that criteria.

Advocates for rural schools are fighting back, with the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools pointing out that 11 of the state's top 20 schools with the highest ACT scores are in districts with less than 500 students, and graduation rates in those districts are about 7 percent higher than in larger districts.

Rural communities are paying close attention, too.

"In these little towns, the only thing holding the place together is the school, the post office and maybe a grocery," according to Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, who's quoted in the Oklahoman article. "It's more than eight-man football."

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