District Reorganization Leads to School Closures in Arkansas, Especially in High Poverty and African-American Communities

Last Updated: May 24, 2006

Arkansas Advocates for Community and Rural Schools

An Investigation of School Closures Resulting from Forced District Reorganization in Arkansas

Report PDF (88 KB)
CONTACTS: Jerry Johnson (author), (606) 831-2571 Lavina Grandon, (870) 429-6543

(Everton, AR) Contrary to assurances from school reorganization advocates, state-mandated annexation and consolidation of Arkansas school districts has resulted in school closings, according to a new study prepared for Arkansas Advocates for Community and Rural Education by a national nonprofit organization.

Since Act 60 was passed in 2004, 47 schools have been closed in the 67 districts forced into consolidation or annexation. That figure represents over one-third of the schools in those former districts.

The study also concludes that (1) schools in districts annexed by larger districts were more likely to be closed than those that entered into consolidations; (2) high poverty and/or predominantly African-American communities were most likely to lose their schools following annexation; and (3) communities in the Mississippi Delta have borne the brunt of the school closure push.

The study, An Investigation of School Closures Resulting from Forced District Reorganization in Arkansas, was conducted by the Rural School and Community Trust (see www.ruraledu.org), a national organization dedicated to rural school improvement, using data from the Arkansas Department of Education and the National Center for Education Statistics.

Forty-two of the 47 closed schools were in districts administratively annexed into larger districts. Only five were in districts that administratively consolidated with each other. Nearly half (48%) of the schools that were in districts annexed to larger districts were closed. By contrast, none of the schools that were in the larger districts that annexed smaller districts under Act 60 have been closed. The five schools closed in consolidated districts represented 11% of all schools in those districts.

Differences in school board representation in the reorganized districts helps explain this disparity between schools in consolidated versus annexed districts. Under consolidation, the boundaries for school board seats were immediately redrawn based on student enrollment numbers and elections for board seats were conducted at the next general election. The result was a new board with roughly proportional representation from the areas served by the separate districts that formed the new consolidated district.

But in the case of annexations, the "receiving" district had the option of establishing an interim board and foregoing elections for a new board for another year. Although the receiving district was required to provide the annexed district with proportional representation on the interim board, in most cases that meant opening only one seat to the smaller annexed district. The study concludes that the loss of political influence for the annexed district at the school board level assured quick closure of many schools serving these communities.

This process of annexation and subsequent closure of schools has been disproportionately forced on poor and African-American communities. The study found that over two-thirds of African-American students in annexed districts lost their school within two years, more than twice the rate for other students in annexed districts. The closures were most likely to occur in schools with African-American majority enrollments. More than three in four of majority African-American schools in annexed districts were closed, compared with only one in three of White majority schools.

Moreover, annexation and school closure have disproportionately affected communities in the Mississippi Delta region of the state. The study reports that nearly half (49%) of all schools closed following annexation were in the Delta, and nearly three-fourths of all Delta schools in annexed districts have been closed since 2003.

"This study should put to rest the claim that Act 60 was only about district consolidation, not school consolidation. It was about both. District consolidation has been a prelude to closing schools, especially schools in poor and predominantly African-American communities-the same schools that courts have determined to have been historically underserved by educational policymakers in the state," said Lavina Grandon, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Community and Rural Schools.

"Our most vulnerable children are being taken from the intimate, nurturing environments deemed most effective in educating disadvantaged students and placed in settings that almost ensure their failure It's time state policymakers faced up to what they're doing to these children and put a stop to it."

The study can be read or downloaded online at www.aracre.org or www.ruraledu.org.

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