School of Education News

UW-Madison's Underwood speaks with PBS 'NewsHour' about rural school closures

November 30, 2018

PBS “NewsHour” recently produced a segment for its Tuesday, Nov. 27, program headlined, “How schools are forced to close as rural populations dwindle.”

The report explains how “across the country, rural schools are being forced to shut down as more families move to urban areas and funding sources dry up. In Arena, Wisconsin, 6-year-old Brady Schlamp must now travel 10 miles to school. His former school, right around the corner, was shuttered. As Jeffrey Brown reports, the closures can cause logistical challenges, emotional fallout and community divisions.”

Among the many experts interviewed for this report is UW-Madison’s Julie Underwood, who tells “NewsHour” that “lots of times, when a school closes in a small community, it closes a community.”

Underwood is the Susan Engeleiter Professor of Education Law, Policy and Practice, and the former dean of the School of Education. 

“NewsHour” explains that while closures can be devastating to small towns, consolidation is often the only choice to keep school districts viable.

“You want to stay vibrant as much as possible,” Underwood says in the report. “And once you start losing that by losing students or cutting your programs, you're going to lose more students and cut more programs. It's a bad cycle.”

Adds Underwood: “If you look at the demographic maps of Wisconsin, not only has the population shifted out of rural areas, but those rural areas have become poorer in terms of income, so they have less resources to deal with greater problems.”

To learn more about this important but nuanced topic, check out the entire “NewsHour” report on this PBS web page.

• On Thursday, Nov. 29, Governor-elect Tony Evers and Lt. Governor-elect Mandela Barnes named Underwood to a “What’s Best for Kids” Advisory Council. This group of leaders and advocates from across the state will work with and advise the transition team on policies and issues affecting Wisconsin’s kids.

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