Our local school district is barely functional, and the results of education have been dropping for decades as measured by college graduation rates, for example. But the idea of consolidating - and answer obvious to all for two generations now - has consistently been thwarted by school teachers who are employed there, parents who favor locality over education, and the familiar attachment local resideants have for the school they attended.
And so education declines, the school struggles financially, and things fall apart. We're not alone.
Even the most defiant schools superintendent will admit that rural districts face challenges. South Dakota allots about $4,500 for each student. Though small districts receive a bit more cash, districts that lose students lose money. Many districts, including Rutland, have to raise extra money locally to cover their costs.It was the highlighted sentence that grabbed my attention. That is exactly what a few good teachers did for me and my sons. But in our case, I returned, and equally inexplicably, so has my son. But our classmates who made it through college did not, for the most part.
The biggest difficulty, however, is finding teachers. Mr Fahrenwald is Rutland's superintendent, physics teacher and bus driver. There are fewer teachers to hire: the number of state students graduating with a teaching degree dropped by 30% between 2000 and 2007. It doesn't help that South Dakota's salaries for rural teachers are the second-lowest in America.
Consolidation, legislators hope, may begin to offset these trends. A merged school means recruiting one algebra teacher, not two. Don Kirkegaard, the head of a consolidated district in the north-eastern part of the state, says he now has more money for pension accounts, special education and capital expenses. Critics say that the savings are often lost because of greater bureaucracy.
But the debate over rural schools hides a sad irony. The better a small town educates its pupils, the more likely they are to seek jobs elsewhere. According to a study by Pennsylvania State University, returns to investment in human capital are much lower in rural areas than in urban ones. [More] [My emphasis]
It could be that mediocre schools are the logical answer for small communities who can't afford to lose any more population.