Battling Declining Enrolment in the Upper Midwestern United States: Rural Schools in a Competitive Society
AbstractThis paper examines the effects of declining student enrolment and population loss on one rural school district in the United States, as well as the district’s strategies to mitigate these effects. In the state of Wisconsin, the relationship between student enrolment and school funding destabilises rural school districts experiencing population decline and forces them to depend on local property taxes to make up the difference. In order to achieve community financial and political support, the school district in Forest Lake, Wisconsin, emphasises choice, transparency and new managerial practices. Using data from a year-long ethnographic study, the following analysis explores neoliberal educational policies at the state level that shape local educational policies and practices in Forest Lake. The Forest Lake school district is mired in a paradoxical situation in which being competitive in the educational marketplace equates to disrupting established school-community relations. The findings imply that required participation in an educational marketplace shifts the priorities of a rural school district to a focus on competition and financial security over the well-being of the school community.
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