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The Decline in the Number of School Districts in the U.S.: 1950-1980

Lawrence W. Kenny and Amy B. Schmidt
Public Choice
Vol. 79, No. 1/2 (1994), pp. 1-18
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30026859
Page Count: 18
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The Decline in the Number of School Districts in the U.S.: 1950-1980
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Abstract

Between 1950 and 1980 the number of school districts fell from 83,642 to 15,987. Data for the fifty states for 1950, 1960, 1970, and 1980 are used to identify the factors that contributed to this decline. The focus is on the tradeoff between cost savings through scale economies (a few large districts) and a diverse population's demand for choice in public schooling (many small districts). We find that much of the decline in the number of school districts has resulted from: 1) the decline in the farm population and increase in population density, which has made it easier to take advantage of scale economies; 2) the growing importance of state aid, which reduces quality variation among districts within a state; and 3) the increase in the fraction of teachers that belong to the National Education Association teacher's union, which may reflect increased political influence used to lower the costs of organizing. Several states have laws that require school district and county (or state) boundaries to coincide. In the last section of the paper we estimate the costs of these laws. First, we compare the predicted number of districts, using the regression results in the earlier section of the paper, to the actual number in these states. Then we estimate a demand equation that is used to generate the dollar amount of the cost due to diminished interjurisdictional competition.

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