The House Education Committee
approved legislation today to blow a gaping hole in the hard-won standard to consolidate school districts with fewer than 350 students in the name of efficiency.
Rep. Bruce Cozart's HB 1263
would allow the state Board of Education to grant waivers from consolidation to districts that seek them if they are not in academic or fiscal distress and otherwise meet standards.
The familiar arguments were heard: Some school districts perform well; schools are economic engines for small towns; there are economic efficiencies in consolidation; many small districts don't provide the range of courses of larger schools; consolidation requires longer bus rides
People in rural areas like their small schools and many students there do well. Despite anecdotal testimony such as this, acknowledged experts testify to the benefits of somewhat larger districts, particularly at the high school level. The legislation requires little wiggle room. The state Board "shall" approve waivers if:
The district is not classified in academic, fiscal or facilities distress.
The district is not on probation on accreditation standards.
Facilities are adequate.
It is in the best interest of students because of potentially longer bus rides.
Twenty-eight districts have fewer than 450 students.