‘Fragmented’ School Districts: A Complicated and Controversial Issue

Source: Mark Maciag, Governing, April 2016

Numbers such as these have long drawn the ire of policymakers, and in an era of budget cutbacks, “fragmented” school districts serve as prime targets for consolidation. At the beginning of this year, lawmakers in Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma all introduced legislation aimed at merging school districts or combining their administrative duties. But such proposals frequently are met with fierce opposition from parents and teachers. School districts with very small enrollments are actually quite common across the country. A Governing analysis of federal data from the 2013-2014 school year found that a third of all local districts were made up of only one or two public schools. Nearly half of all districts nationally — 46 percent — serve fewer than 1,000 students. While many of these districts are in rural or outlying areas, 2,050 are in metro areas. … But is such a system really more efficient? Elementary and secondary education accounted for 15 percent of Hawaii’s total state expenditures in fiscal 2014, compared with 20 percent for all states, according to a report by the National Association of State Budget Officers. Still, it’s difficult to gauge how much savings any particular consolidation would yield, given how differently districts are structured throughout the country. Oklahoma and other select states have already passed laws that cap local districts’ administrative costs. …

Related:

How Does School District Consolidation Affect Property Values? A Case Study of New York
Source: William D. Duncombe, John Yinger, Pengju Zhang, Public Finance Review, Vol. 44 no. 1, January 2016
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From the abstract:
This article explores the impact of school district consolidation on house values based on house sales in upstate New York State from 2000 to 2012. By combining propensity score matching (PSM) and double-sales data to compare house value changes in consolidating and comparable school districts, we find that, except in one relatively large district, consolidation has a negative impact on house values during the years right after it occurs and that this effect then fades away and is eventually reversed. This pattern suggests that it takes time either for the advantages of consolidation to be apparent or for the people who prefer consolidated districts to move in. Finally, as in previous studies, the long-run impacts of consolidation on house values are positive in census tracts that initially have low incomes, but negative in high-income census tracts, where parents may have a relatively large willingness to retain the nonbudgetary advantages of small districts.