Staunton, Dec. 21 – Since Vladimir Putin came to power, more than 20,000 schools, most of them in rural areas, have been closed and consolidated into larger facilities in district centers. Russian law requires that the population be consulted, but that law has generally been ignored under the terms of the Kremlin leader’s optimization program designed to save the state money.
Because the closure of a school often puts the village where it was located on track to disappear, few rural residents support consolidation even when officials make the argument that pupils will have greater opportunities in larger schools. And now they have a new champion, Aleksey Kurinny, a KPRF Duma deputy.
The deputy chairman of the Duma health committee has proposed a new law that will place a total ban on closure of schools unless the population is consulted and agreed. If the measure were adopted, that would likely create a crisis in rural areas given shortages of funds or force the authorities to continue to violate the law (nakanune.ru/articles/120059/).
Money for education is short. The 2023 budget provides for a ten percent increase in funding for schools but that is less than the consumer price rise. As a result, real support for public education will continue to fall. Moscow is likely to force the closure of schools by citing its inability to staff them.
What makes this important, however, is not the likelihood that Kurinny’s measure will pass or that if it passes, it will be implemented but rather that it is another sign that Putin’s optimization moves are infuriating people and opposition parties like the KPRF are picking up on that, no doubt gaining support from those many assume will remain Putin backers forever.
Those who have lived through school consolidations elsewhere as has the author of these lines know just how powerful attachments are to local schools. Several years ago, I attended my 50th high school reunion. That high school was consolidated on the basis of three schools, but it was clear at the reunion that the primary identities people retained were those of the earlier ones.
When time came for pictures of those who returned for this anniversary, my fellow classmates first asked to have pictures taken of those who came from each of these schools – and only after that was done was there the traditional class picture for the consolidated school, one created more than half a century ago.