Arkansas State Board Denies Innovative Consolidation Approach

Last Updated: February 25, 2010

This article appeared in the February 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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The state school board of Arkansas has denied a request by two small high-achieving school districts to merge with each other. Delight, in southwest Arkansas, and Weiner, in the northeast portion of the state had both fallen below the state’s 350-student minimum enrollment requirement.

Both districts enjoy high student achievement and graduation levels as well as strong parental and community support. Both districts had dutifully sought mergers with adjacent districts only to see potential partners back down (in some cases the mergers would reduce the larger districts’ state aid) or back away from commitments to the smaller districts such as keeping their schools in place.

Then the districts hit on the idea of merging with each other. In doing so, they would combine administrations as the law requires, maintain their successful schools, and pilot 21st century communications technologies for overcoming distance.

Read an editorial by Renee Carr, Executive Director of Arkansas’s Rural Community Alliance about the proposed merger.

But earlier this month the State School Board turned down the request. According to state press reports, the Board justified the decision by saying such a thing had not been done before.

This editorial in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette is a must-read analysis of the limited thinking that seems to have driven the Arkansas decision, the kind of thinking that brings real harm to rural students in many places where arbitrary public policy and indifferent officials turn a blind eye to the possibilities before them.

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Read more from the February 2010 Rural Policy Matters.