For Immediate Release: 
Contact: Brad Finstad (507) 934-7700

April 27, 2009

Research Offers Recommendations for Helping Rural Minnesota Schools Key Finding: 
Consolidation produces few benefits and may have negative effects

SAINT PETER, Minn. — Comprehensive research released today by The Center for Rural Policy and Development offers policymakers a series of recommendations on how to help and improve rural Minnesota schools.   The research, authored by representatives of Wilder Research, the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, gleaned a key finding: School district consolidation, a strategy employed in rural districts with declining enrollment, produces few benefits and may have negative effects.   “We hope this research produces a healthy discussion,” said Brad Finstad, executive director of the Center for Rural Policy and Development. “The researchers who collaborated with us on this project approached the issues facing rural Minnesota school districts from different directions and with different tactics, but they all sought to address them from the same standpoint: Controlling costs without sacrificing quality.”

The research, titled “A Region Apart: A look at challenges and strategies for rural K-12 schools,”includes three reports:

  • A literature review of strategies for rural schools that have shown to maintain or improve student achievement at less cost or the same cost to schools districts.
  • A survey and focus groups of rural school district superintendents and principals to identify their top priorities and needs.
  • An examination of four specific approaches to addressing declining enrollment and high school completion rates.

The research concludes with the authors’ policy recommendations that arose from the three reports. 
Among their recommendations:

  • Develop collaboration instead of consolidation: A state policy should be developed to help foster collaboration with and between school districts. While consolidation has been used in rural districts with declining enrollment, the authors’ research on cost-effective policies strongly cautions against this strategy as the negatives outweigh the positives.
  • Distance is key: Distance is an overriding reality for most rural school districts, eating up time and resources. The state should consider reconfiguring the funding categories of elementary and secondary sparsity as well as transportation sparsity to reflect changing fuel costs, the higher costs of inter-district travel for enrichment and athletics, and other possible solutions.
  • Use technology to its best advantage: Online professional learning communities should be established to help rural educators share best practices and reduce isolation, and online general subject or enrichment courses should be made available to isolated rural learners.
  • Help the Minnesota Department of Education help rural districts: Rural school district administrators are frustrated with the Minnesota Department of Education, especially in the areas of testing and staff development. A review of the department’s policies and procedures should be conducted to determine if they meet the needs of administrators and educators in rural Minnesota.

To view and/or download the complete report, click here. The Center for Rural Policy and Development, based in Saint Peter, Minn., is a private, not-for-profit policy research organization dedicated to benefiting Minnesota by providing its policymakers with an unbiased evaluation of issues from a rural perspective.