Across the country, communities are using their taxing authority to create their own school systems, seceding from their local district. In the wake of these changes, many school districts are becoming more segregated, and our neediest students more isolated.
When state laws allow wealthy municipalities to easily fence off their tax dollars and resources, they are increasing segregation and reducing opportunity for children in the communities left behind. States have a responsibility to make sure that school systems are fair and logical, so that all children can receive a quality education. When communities secede it is typically for their own benefit, but these changes have far reaching repercussions, well beyond their new borders.
School district consolidations are just one method of alleviating the financial burden districts face with declining enrollment and property values. But will they ever be enough, or is there a more systemic issue at play?
In 39 states, consolidation is purely voluntary. Twenty-four of these states also provide financial incentives to encourage mergers between wealthier and less affluent neighbors, but such mergers rarely happen. In fact, only nine states have mechanisms that allow the state to force a merger, but very few can do so in response to financial problems. And no consolidation policy can overcome the problem of insolvent districts surrounded by other property-poor school systems. Widening the tax base cannot help students who live and learn in regions experiencing broad economic struggles.
So long as states depend on local property taxes to fund their schools, there will inevitably be students stranded in districts ill-equipped to provide for their educations. Read about examples when children were left behind by these policies in our Case Studies, and then continue on to the Solutions section to see how states can do better.
School district secessions are inefficient and entrench community inequities—but they continue to happen in states across the country. What is driving this behavior and what can states do to curtail this alarming trend?
School district secessions are explicitly allowed in most states, despite their deleterious effect on efficiency and equality of resources. Of the 30 states with explicit policies detailing how a community can secede from its current district, only six require consideration of the effects on racial and socioeconomic diversity. Only nine mandate a study of the funding impact. By having in place such permissive policies, states are incentivizing behavior which widens the economic and opportunity divide as it relates to our children.