A perfect storm of declining enrollments, decreased state aid, and more lax rules governing open enrollment could put many districts on the financial brink this year, forcing them to consider consolidation. However, a new study warns those plans may have long-term negative consequences that outweigh the short-term benefits.
Tom Beebe with the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools says districts need to “take it easy” before rushing in to consolidation plans. He points to a recent study by the National Education Policy Center that shows consolidation can have a negative impact on communities and the quality of education in some districts.
The study found cost savings may actually be very small, when you consider the extra expense of busing students farther or creating larger sports programs.
Another problem in Wisconsin is consolidation often leads two declining enrollment districts to combine, forming one slightly larger district that still has declining enrollments.
Beebe says consolidation might make sense in certain instances, but blanket state policies that directly or indirectly force schools to merge can have unintended consequences.
The group has lobbied for a one-cent increase to the state sales tax to support education funding. Beebe says it would raise an additional $800 million annually for schools.