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History of Oklahoma sheds light on reasons behind high ranking in number of school districts

Oklahoma's rural history sheds light on why the state ranks eighth in the nation for the number of school districts per capita in a state.
BY NASREEN IQBAL AND TAYLOR ELDRIDGE Modified: July 27, 2012 at 8:36 pm •  Published: July 29, 2012

In the late 1800s, even before statehood, there was a law in the Oklahoma Territory that each township would have four school districts.

This led to a situation where, by 1907, when the state was created, there were 5,656 districts, according to the state Education Department.

That number decreased to 4,869 in 1930, 2,177 in 1950 and 653 by 1970.

Going into this school year, there are 521 districts in Oklahoma — quite a reduction over time, but still enough for the state to rank eighth nationally for school districts per capita.

There have been about 100 consolidations or annexations since 1977.

While urban areas like Oklahoma City and Tulsa have the biggest districts in the state, small districts proliferate in rural communities, where people often oppose consolidation efforts.

“The idea of giving up control over your school district in your local community is not the conservative way,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “Consolidation has gone against the basic political personality of Oklahoma.”

No law is in place that requires Oklahoma school districts to consolidate, but there is an incentive to merge through House Bill 1017. Passed in 1990, the education reform bill offers money to newly consolidated school districts.

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