Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska


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A small school in Nebraska, called Country School A for the purposes of this study, began in only one room; and over the years additional rooms were added such that the school served seventy students and their families. All those associated with the school were significantly impacted by a A Rural Community’s Response to School Consolidation A major trend in the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was school consolidation. This effort usually meant closing one-room schools and replacing them with fewer, larger schools. In 1913, the nation had more than 200,000 one-room schools; but hundreds closed every year. Some states quickly consolidated while others resisted for many decades. To encourage the change, some states passed legislation in support of consolidation. Others promised funds to every district that closed a school. Still others allowed people in a designated area to vote on the issue. As late as 1980, Nebraska had three hundred operating one-room country schools. Twenty-five years later, the Nebraska legislature passed a law to close many of these schools (Zimmerman, 2009) In the following study, Professor Jeanne Surface makes a qualitative assessment of the impact of school consolidation on a particular school in Nebraska and the neighborhood the school served. —Ed. Country School Journal, VOL. 4 (2016) 50 law passed by the Nebraska legislature in June 2005, Nebraska LB 126, which eliminated Class I districts (districts with only elementary schools) and Class VI districts (districts with only high schools). The statute specified that all Nebraska school districts were required to offer every grade by 2006; therefore, Country School A had to merge with a neighboring K-12 district. When it did, the larger district decided to close the smaller school. It has been argued that community life is essential for a healthy democracy and further that a school is essential for a healthy community (e.g., Putnam, Leonardi, and Nanetti, 1994). Communities that have seen their schools consolidated have lost property values, local economic vitality, and a sense of community identity. With the closure of their school, they have also lost political power. Country School A consisted of teachers, board members, grandparents, students, and patrons. The purpose of this study is to make a qualitative assessment of the impact of school consolidation on the neighborhood served by Country School A and to relate the findings to a growing body of research on the roles of small schools in rural areas.