School District Consolidation in Arkansas

Last Updated: August 01, 2003

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

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In response to an Arkansas Supreme Court order to alter the state's school funding system, Governor Mike Huckabee and others have proposed consolidating many small school districts. This report analyzes financial and academic data of all Arkansas districts and evaluates several approaches to district consolidation.

Small school districts in Arkansas accomplish more with less money in more difficult circumstances than do large districts. Nearly two-thirds of small districts spend less per student than the state average. Both small and large districts that spend above average serve a student population that is, on average, more at risk of failing to complete high school or to achieve high academic standards than do other districts. Moreover, large districts are more likely to be academically low performing than are small districts. More students-both in number and proportion-attend large districts that either spend above the state average or perform academically below the state average than attend small districts that spend above average or perform below average. These results are essentially the same whether a "small" district is defined as one with fewer than 1,500 students or one with fewer than 700 students.

If low academic performance is used to target districts for consolidation, the impacts will be concentrated on the poorest communities with the highest percentage of African-American students, especially in the Delta region of the state. Such a strategy flies in the face of scientific research that shows children from impoverished communities do their best in small schools and small districts.

The problem in Arkansas is not the size of districts, but poverty, the persistent effects of racial discrimination, and a school funding system whose inequities and inadequacies exacerbate those problems. For rural Arkansas, the best course is to improve schools in the small districts serving the poorest communities in the state.