Since the bill passed, 83 schools either have annexed or consolidated, according to the state Education Department.
The backbone of the case for consolidation rests on the belief that it would greatly reduce costs. The idea is that with fewer school districts in a county, fewer salaries need to be paid.
“But rural Oklahoma will make the case, with some vigor, that if you want the state to be strong, then you've got to encourage economic development in rural Oklahoma,” Blackburn said. “Without an educated populace, how can we modernize with a need of an educated workforce?”
Oklahoma has many rural communities. The state ranks fourth in the nation for number of farms within a state and produces $7 billion worth of agricultural products each year, according to the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
According to data from the 2010 census, just over a third of Oklahoma's population lives in rural areas of fewer than 2,500 residents, making it the state with the 16th highest rural population percentage.