School & District Management

Ninety Percent Fewer School Districts Exist Now Compared to 70 Years Ago

By Diette Courrégé Casey — October 08, 2013 1 min read
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The push among states to consolidate schools has resulted in fewer school districts across the country, but it hasn’t stopped rural communities from fighting to protect their schools.

Some states use financial incentives to encourage districts to merge, but that hasn’t been enough to convince some rural schools to do so, according to a recent story published on Stateline, the daily news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Still, consolidation has changed the landscape of the country’s school districts. There were 90 percent fewer districts in 2012 compared to 1942, from 108,579 down to 12,880, according to the story. And in the most recent five year period, the number dropped by 383 districts.

It’s worth noting that some researchers have found that the consolidation during the last century already has produced most of the efficiencies that could be realized, and irreversible damage could be suffered by high-poverty districts forced to merge. They say deconsolidation, or breaking apart larger districts, should be considered an option, and decisions either way should be made on a case-by-case basis.

This recent Stateline article took a close look at Maine, which has all but forced districts to consolidate. The state passed a law in 2007 mandating that its 290 districts join forces or face penalties, and it lost 58 in a five-year period, according to the story. That wasn’t as many as some hoped, and some districts since have voted to “divorce” from its “arranged marriage.”

One consultant quoted says consolidation most often works in places that already have overlapping activities, aren’t athletic rivals, and share a perception of equal opportunity to gain.

My favorite quote in the Stateline piece is from a superintendent of a New York school district that recently rejected a consolidation referendum: “The two things a community never wants to lose are its post office and school district.” How true.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.