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.
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.
BANCROFT – The city of Bancroft, called “the garden spot of Iowa” for almost 90 years, may not be growing in population. But like a good perennial plant with solid roots, it is regenerating and flowering. Located in northern Kossuth County in north-central Iowa about 20 miles south of the Minnesota state line, Bancroft has a population of 699 residents, according to 2020 Census data, down from 732 in 2010. It’s who makes up that 699 number that matters. Bancroft has an eclectic mix of new, longtime and returning residents.
A handful of Iowa communities and a group of Iowa State University researchers are trying to demonstrate that less can, in fact, be more, and small can, in fact, be vibrant. If you’re smart about it. In an outgrowth of community surveys begun a quarter century ago, ISU researchers have identified what they call “Shrink Smart” communities. Like so many others, particularly smaller free-standing rural communities, they have steadily lost population since the 1980s recession and farm crisis. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network
Yet, the Shrink Smart communities, according to survey data, are viewed by their residents as having a high quality of life.
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.
Iowans who spend time working on small-town vitality in the state say small, rural communities will not survive urban flight without taking risks or community leaders willing to take them. “I have concerns that places that want to grow are doing it based on a strategy of stand-pat-edness, I guess,” Bill Menner, a former Obama administration U.S. Department of Agriculture state rural development director for Iowa, said. “If you think you can grow your community by staying the same, you’re probably not going to grow your community,” Menner, of Grinnell, said in an interview for an IowaWatch series, Small Town Solutions. He is executive director of the Iowa Rural Health Association. The IowaWatch series reported that Iowa towns with fewer than 5,000 people but remaining vital, despite losing population in some instances, benefitted from one or more factors that included: creative businesses, updated infrastructure, readily available health care, child care, the arts, recreation, a sense of being safe, strong local schools and a sense of community pride.
Relaxing with a cup of coffee at Madeline’s in Riverside, Iowa, you could hear Morgan Rodgers chatting with customers one recent August morning. She knew them all. “We just appreciate our customers and the continued support they’ve given us,” Rodgers, an 11-year resident of Riverside, said about the shop she and her husband, Andy, opened in May 2019. Lyle Muller/IowaWatchMorgan Rodgers realized her dream of being a baker she she and her husband, Andy, opened Madeline’s coffee shop in Riverside in May 2019. The shop is named after her late grandmother, whom she baked with as a child.
PARKERSBURG, Iowa – After a killer tornado in 2008 and the murder of a beloved community leader a year later, many folks in Parkersburg felt they could take just about any punch thrown at them. Then came the coronavirus pandemic. It claimed lives and took a bite at businesses. But as was the case with those prior tragedies, the people of Parkersburg weren’t about to be defined by this latest challenge. Instead they defined themselves by what they would do to overcome — support one another.
BELMOND, Iowa – Rob and Melissa Arnold are emerging from the pandemic of the past year and a half. Instead of waiting it out, the Arnolds took advantage of the opportunity to retool and renovate their restaurant, Sugarpie Bakery & Cafe. The restaurant reopened again to dine-in business in late July. The Arnolds could have reopened sooner. But buoyed by Melissa’s skills with wedding cakes and bakery items, they made ends meet on carryout business and took their time to do the renovation the way they wanted it.