Of Iowa’s 327 public school districts, 104 districts have an enrollment of 500 or fewer students, according to the Iowa Department of Education’s latest numbers, released in December. RELATED STORY: Iowa rural educators say ‘student first’ proposal undermines them
1. Adair-Casey Community School District: 252.6
2. Albert City-Truesdale Community School District: 92.0
Rural educators are bracing for the potential impact of the “student first scholarship” legislation that passed the Iowa Senate Wednesday night. The legislation, Senate File 2369, would allow students who choose to attend private school to use tax dollars to pay for tuition. Gov. Kim Reyolds proposes that 30 percent of Iowa’s per pupil funding for K-12 students who accept tax dollars to pay for private school go into a separate fund and be distributed equally to mostly rural districts with 500 or fewer students.
Iowa has 104 districts with 500 or fewer students, according to numbers from the Iowa Department of Education. There are 327 total public school districts in the state. Chris Coffelt, the shared superintendent of Central Decatur and Lamoni districts south of Des Moines, said his school districts are an example of why the plan isn’t gaining traction.
ELMA – This town is all about building bridges – even though you normally won’t find an expanse of water much wider than Mead Creek on the northwest edge of town. There’s one covered bridge, an old rail head viaduct over Main Street that is now part of a recreational trail. That has now become a community symbol, a motif of what this Howard County community of a little more than 500 is trying to accomplish. In fact, the name of the town’s nonprofit community betterment organization is The Bridge Inc. It’s a coalition of people that have put together a community complex project now underway in a closed elementary school building. Elma is one of a handful of Iowa communities involved in Shrink Smart, an Iowa State University research project begun in 2017 that examines how towns with decreasing populations keep their quality of life.
Some Iowa towns may be shrinking in population, but they may have an impact on other communities in Iowa and beyond. Officials with the Iowa League of Cities and researchers with Iowa State University say a handful – dwindling but proactively maintaining and improving their quality of life – are raising eyebrows and may be pathfinders for other communities to follow. Colleagues have already reached some to find out what those towns are doing right, said Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, an advocacy and training group for 850 Iowa member cities. Alan Kemp is the executive director of the Iowa League of Cities. “It was sort of interesting to look at this idea of shrinking smart,” Kemp said.
Wanting to know their new state after moving to Iowa in 2014, Dave and Karen Miglin and their two children went to the Field of Dreams movie site outside of Dyersville in northeast Iowa.
Dave Miglin had moved from Atlanta ahead of the family the previous year for his job as media and digital vice president for Strategic America in West Des Moines. Sitting at Iowa’s famous baseball field in a farm field, his son, Evan, was asking questions. “He was, like, curious to know what I was going to see next,” Miglin, 53, said. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network
“Next” became visits to every incorporated town and city in Iowa over five years. Iowa had 955 incorporated towns when he started his quest.
ByNatalie Krebs / Iowa Public Radio and Side Effects Public Media |
Across the Midwest, the rollout of COVID vaccines has been spotty. Lots of people are having a trouble with online signups. And vaccine demand far exceeds supply. That’s made the process challenging, especially in rural areas. For years, the Girls State Training School in central Iowa has sat mostly empty.
Andy and Amy Jo Hellenbrand live on a little farm in south-central Wisconsin where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, heifers, chickens, goats, bunnies, and their four children, ages 5 to 12. For the entire fall semester, the quartet of grade school students learned virtually from home, as their district elected to keep school buildings closed. That has put a strain on the family, as well as the childrens’ grades and grammar. “I definitely feel like they’re falling behind,” said Amy Jo Hellenbrand. “You just notice certain things as far as their language and how they talk.
Jewell, Iowa – At 3:20 p.m. on a Monday, a voice booms through the public address speakers at South Hamilton School. “Everybody mask up.” A reminder of how much changed this school year. The South Hamilton district — 700 pre-K through 12th-grade students from the rural towns of Ellsworth, Randall, Stanhope and Jewell in the center of Iowa — tackled challenges facing other rural schools since COVID-19 came to Iowa in March and shut down schools.
“You can’t handle the ‘what ifs,’ because there are too many of them,” said longtime activities director Todd Coy. This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project. The collaboration was made possible by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.
Vicki and Matt Bruening live on a Floyd County acreage with six children ranging from a sophomore in high school to a fourth-grader. Like others in Iowa, the family makes a living in agribusiness: both Bruenings operate an agricultural repair business in New Hampton, and Matt farms with his uncle on family land nearby.
At home, the family raises goats and chickens, with the help of their kids. When COVID-19 shut down Iowa schools over the spring break season in March, farm life gave the Bruenings the benefit of staying busy — but as time progressed, the family was still concerned whether school doors would open in the fall.
“We were most worried about if they wouldn’t be able to go back at all,” Vicki Bruening said. “It’s been a different kind of school year so far, but it’s also been good to get them back in the classroom, back with their friends.”
Bruening drives her kids to school in the morning as a way to provide more time to get ready. In the afternoon while she’s at work, the family relies on school transportation from Charles City’s joint high school and middle school campus, and one of the district’s two elementary schools.
This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project.
There was a milestone of note recently, and it is a shame there was not a big public celebration. Twenty years ago, Gov. Tom Vilsack and the Iowa Legislature had the foresight to create a program that has brought important changes to communities large and small across Iowa. The program was called Vision Iowa – and it certainly provided that. The initiative enabled communities to bring projects to life that probably never would have gotten off the ground without the unusual financial arrangement that was the beauty of Vision Iowa. State government provided part of the investment for these projects.