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Forum editorial: N.D. youth say small isn't better

North Dakotans tend to believe the platitude that "small is better." If the bromide were true, North Dakota would be a thriving, vibrant state filled with thousands of young families living in small places. But the numbers reveal otherwis...

North Dakotans tend to believe the platitude that "small is better."

If the bromide were true, North Dakota would be a thriving, vibrant state filled with thousands of young families living in small places. But the numbers reveal otherwise. Statistical analyses confirm the obvious. Population drain puts the lie to North Dakota's love affair with "small." Love affair? More like lip service.

Public education offers the most revealing trends. Stories last week in The Forum's "Saving North Dakota" project put the situation in bright and uncomfortable light. Rural schools are hanging on, but for the wrong reasons. Yes, some still provide good educations. But when there are only four students in the first grade or 12 in the next few early grades, it won't be long before the quality of education matters not a wit. What good is quality education when there are no children to educate?

Rural school patrons who resist consolidation cling to their past rather than work for a good future for their children and grandchildren. That's one reason reasonable incentives for rural district consolidations often go nowhere. The other reason is concern about higher property taxes -- and that's a legitimate worry.

But if the goal is to provide children with the best possible education, rural districts would be scrambling to find any and all ways to consolidate, save money, maybe reduce taxes and certainly provide better schools.

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But maybe even radical consolidation is not the answer to the bigger problem. "Saving" rural North Dakota is a daunting task, given the decisions made by thousands of rural young people during the last decade. Boiled down, it's this: "We're outa here."

They have been voting with their feet. They have been walking (running?) away from those much-touted "small-town values" in favor of the bright lights of the state's biggest cities, or the brighter lights of the nation's metropolitan areas.

And why? Lots of reasons, ranging from a desire for more diversity to educational priorities. But most always it comes down to a single factor: wages. They want to work in their disciplines and be paid well. A majority has concluded they can't do it in most of North Dakota. They certainly believe they can't do it in rural North Dakota.

The "values" question is troubling. If the best and the brightest of rural North Dakota (and our reporting shows that's who they are) opt to flee the state, what are they saying about those small-town roots?

E Nice, but not important enough to sacrifice a little (or a lot) to stay in rural North Dakota.

E A great place to grow up, but not important enough to forego indulging the desire to get the high-paying job and live the good life in the city.

E Gosh, hate to see it all disappear, but not important enough to save it.

Voting with their feet. In droves. "Small" -- as defined for generations in North Dakota -- no longer is better. Our young people are telling us so.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board

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