School Closures in Rural Areas – Starting or End Point for Municipalities
The closures of primary schools are in many cases accompanied by protests of affected parents and communities. This is not only because of the schools educational purpose, but also because of the school’s role as a stable social institution in community life. But what impacts can really be seen if primary schools are shut down? In our research we were particularly interested in possible demographical and economic consequences for municipalities.
Therefore we selected regions in which we find both municipalities where the last school had been closed and municipalities in which – in spite of school closure – one school remained within the municipal borders. In this way fourteen municipalities within five regions – Südburgenland, Murau, Außerfern, Region Weiz and the region „proximity to the regional capital“ could be analysed in respect to demographical and economic changes. Moreover, only municipalities were selected where the school was closed between 2001 and 2008. This enables us to study possible development in the municipalities.
As empirical basis we used demographical and economical statistical data collected by Statistic Austria. The results illustrate that almost all municipalities reported declining numbers of inhabitants. This is primarily due to rural depopulation. The birth rates that are in particular crucial for school attendance show a different picture: Both the number of families and the number of births are stable or even increasing since the school had been closed. This refers to the important role of the federal states in this context which have changed their standards of minimum pupil numbers in schools. The economic situation shows a much more diverse picture. Although the number of working places have increased this development does not implicate that more people are employed.