Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Iowa Starves Rural Schools

An editorial in the Pocahontas Record-Democrat last week said the PAC School should help Laurens-Marathon deal with its red ink. Indeed! The two school districts-- and all their neighboring districts-- should tell the Iowa legislature to change Iowa school funding laws.

Iowa starves its small schools until they collapse into the arms of a slightly larger neighbor. Then the combined district begins to suffer the same fate. It doesn't have to be this way.

Other states treat rural areas better. Oregon just established a special fund for high schools with fewer than 350 students. Nebraska offers help to any elementary school that is more than seven miles from the next elementary school. Texas sends extra money to rural districts that exceed 300 square miles. Iowa could pass any of these measures. It should pass all three.

Instead the Iowa legislature limits how much a school can spend. The limit is based on enrollment. This is unrealistic for rural areas where population has been declining for three generations. At this rate eventually we will have to send all our kids to Fort Dodge to school.

The only thing the Iowa legislature does for small schools is help them commit suicide, offering to pay for the morphine and the funeral. But what becomes of the towns left behind? Do they still have dentists or drug stores? Do they have grocery stores? Do young families buy houses there? Do employers move away, too?

School consolidation is not a solution for rural Iowa---it is part of the problem. Only the legislature can fix it. Let's ask our Representative Shaw and our Senator Beall to address this challenge. It's better than leaving rural kids and small school boards twisting in the wind.