School district

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A school district is a special-purpose district that operates local public primary and secondary schools in various nations.

North America

United States

In the U.S, most K-12 public schools function as units of local school districts, which usually operate several schools, and with the largest urban and suburban districts operating hundreds of schools. While practice varies significantly by state (and in some cases, within a state), most American school districts operate as independent local governmental units under a grant of authority and within geographic limits created by state law. The executive and legislative power over locally controlled policies and operations of an independent school district are, in most cases, held by a school district's board of education. Depending on state law, members of a local board of education (often referred to informally as a school board.) may be elected, appointed by a political office holder, serve ex officio, or a combination of any of these.

An independent school district is a legally separate body corporate and politic. While the controlling law varies, in the United State most school districts operate as independent local governmental units with exclusive authority over K-12 public educational operations and policies. The extent of this control is set by state-level law.

Independent school districts often exercise authority over a school system that is analogous to the authority of local governments like that of a town or a county. These include the power to enter contacts, eminent domain, and the power to issue binding rules and regulations affecting school policies and operations. The power of school districts to tax and spend, however, is generally more limited. An independent school district's annual budget may require approval by plebiscite (much of New York) or the local government (Maryland). Additionally, independent taxation authority may or may not exist as in Virginia, whose school divisions have no taxing authority and must depend on another local government (county, city, or town) for funding. Its governing body, which is typically elected by direct popular vote but may be appointed by other governmental officials, is called a school board, board of trustees, board of education, school committee, or the like. This body appoints a superintendent, usually an experienced public school administrator, to function as the district's chief executive for carrying out day-to-day decisions and policy implementations. The school board may also exercise a quasi-judicial function in serious employee or student discipline matters.

School districts in the Midwest and West tend to cross municipal boundaries, while school districts in New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions tend to adhere to city, township, and/or county boundaries.[1] As of 1951 school districts were independent governmental units in 26 states, while in 17 states there were mixes of independent school districts and school districts subordinate to other local governments. In nine states there were only school districts subordinate to local governments.[2]

Not all school systems constitute school districts as distinct bodies corporate. In most Southern states, school systems operate either as an arm of county government, or at least share coextensive boundaries with the state's counties. In Maryland, most school systems are run at the county level, but the Baltimore City system operates separately, at a county-equivalent level. In New York, most school districts are separate governmental units with the power to levy taxes and incur debt, except for the five cities with population over 125,000, where the schools are operated directly by the municipalities.[3] The Hawaii State Department of Education functions as a single statewide school district. This is unique among the states, but the District of Columbia Public Schools operates district public schools in Washington, DC and the Puerto Rico Department of Education operates all public schools in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, thus they also function as single school districts.


There were 130,000 school districts in the country in 1930. The average student population of each district was 150.[4] From 1942 to 1951 the number of school districts declined from 108,579 to 70,452, a decrease by 38,127 or 35%.[5] Many states had passed laws facilitating school district consolidation. In 1951 the majority of the school districts in existence were rural school districts only providing elementary education, and some school districts did not operate schools but instead provided transportation to other schools. The Midwest (North Central U.S.) had a large number of rural school districts.[2]

Previously areas of the Unorganized Borough of Alaska were not served by school districts, but instead served by schools directly operated by the Alaska Department of Education and by Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools. The state schools were transferred to the Alaska State-Operated School System (SOS) after the Alaska Legislature created it in 1971; that agency was terminated in 1975, with its schools transferred to the newly created Alaska Unorganized Borough School District, which was broken apart into twenty-one school districts the following year.[6]

In the 2002 Census of Governments, the United States Census Bureau enumerated the following numbers of school systems in the United States:

School districts in the US have reduced the number of their employees by 3.3%, or 270,000 between 2008 and 2012, owing to a decline in property tax revenues during and after the Great Recession.[7] By 2016 there were about 13,000 school districts, and the average student population was about 5,000.[4]


Although these terms can vary slightly between various states and regions, these are typical definitions for school district constitution:


These terms may not appear in a district's name, even though the condition may apply.

Teacher assignment practices in school districts

There are various approaches when making decisions in assigning teachers. The decision in assigning teachers can occur with the collaboration of human resource staff or decisions from the collaboration with principals and teachers.[15] Although the decisions for teacher assignment can vary base on school districts, there are two most popular approaches that are currently occurring in assigning teachers. The first popular approach is assigning students to teachers based on sharing the same characteristics as their students.[16] For instance, principals assign teachers to students based on academic performance, teachers’ personalities, teachers teaching styles, and teachers’ classroom management skills. During this assignment practices, there are some collaboration with teachers and principals. The second most popular approach is that teachers can be assigned based on their ability to improve students’ standardized test scores. This is identified as “staffing to the test”[17] in which principals observe the influence teachers have on students’ standardized test scores and then strategically move teachers to certain subjects or grades where standardized test are given.[17]

Even though two approaches are used to assign teachers to students, there are some obstacles that principals encounter when making teacher assignment decisions. For instance, one conflict is parents demand that their child be assigned to a specific teacher.[18] The second conflict is that principals need to take into consideration policies, such as tenure or collective bargaining, which can influence teacher assignment practices.[19] Due to these challenges, many have suggested that principals should collaborate with teacher unions in order to address these conflicts.[19][20]


Outside the United States, autonomous districts or equivalent authorities often represent various groups seeking education autonomy. In European history, as in much of the world, religious (confessional), linguistic, and ethnic divisions have been a significant factor in school organization. This paradigm is shifting.[how?]

In England and Wales, school boards were established in 1870, and abolished in 1902, with county council and county borough councils becoming the local education authorities.[21]

In France, the system of the carte scolaire was dismantled by the beginning of the 2007 school year. More school choice has been given to French students; however, priority is given to those who meet the following criteria:

In Germany, schools are run and funded by the general regional entities, usually the States of Germany or municipalities. School districts in the meaning of distinct legal entities do not exist.

In Italy, school districts were established in 1974 by the "Provvedimenti Delegati sulla scuola" ("Assigned Laws [to the Government] about the school").[22] Each district must contain a minimum of 10,000 inhabitants. The national government attempted to link the local schools with local society and culture and local governments. The school districts were dissolved in 2003 by the "legge finanziaria" (law about the government budget) in an attempt to trim the national budget.[23]


In Hong Kong, the Education Bureau divides primary schools into 36 districts, known as school nets, for its Primary One Admission System.[24] Of the 36 districts, districts 34 and 41 in Kowloon and districts 11 and 12 in Hong Kong Island are considered the most prestigious.[25]


See also


  1. ^ "School Districts" (Archive) U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on June 20, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "State and Local Government Special Studies: Governments in the United States 1951." Property Taxation 1941. U.S. Census Bureau. G-SS-No. 29, March 1952. p. 2 (Google Books RA3-PA56).
  3. ^ "Local Government Handbook" (PDF) (6th ed.). New York Department of State, Division of Local Government Services. 2018-05-13 [2009]. p. 75. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  4. ^ a b Burnette, Daarel II (2016-02-17). "Consolidation Push Roils Vermont Landscape". Education Week. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  5. ^ "State and Local Government Special Studies: Governments in the United States 1951." Property Taxation 1941. U.S. Census Bureau. G-SS-No. 29, March 1952. p. 1-2 (Google Books RA3-PA55 and PA56).
  6. ^ Barnhardt, Carol. "Historical Status of Elementary Schools in Rural Alaskan Communities 1867-1980." Alaska Native Knowledge Network (ANKN), University of Alaska Fairbanks. Retrieved on March 13, 2017.
  7. ^ USA Today published March 13, 2012, page A1,"Property taxes start to decline"
  8. ^ Niskayuna Central School District: District History
  9. ^ "Answer Man: What's 'R' mean in school district names?". Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  10. ^ Kentucky Revised Statutes § 160.020.
  11. ^ Kentucky Revised Statutes § 160.010.
  12. ^ Honeycutt Spears, Valarie (February 12, 2019). "Kentucky will have one less school district with this decision to close and merge". Lexington Herald-Leader. Lexington, KY. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  13. ^ "120A.05 - 2014 Minnesota Statutes". Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  14. ^ Special Purpose Governments, Ohio State University. Accessed 2008-01-05.
  15. ^ Monk, D. H. (1987). "Assigning elementary pupils to their teachers". The Elementary School Journal. 88 (2): 166–187. doi:10.1086/461531. JSTOR 1002040.
  16. ^ Kraemer, S., Worth, R., & Meyer, R. H. (2011, April). Classroom assignment practices in urban school districts using teacher level value-added systems. In Association for Education Finance and Policy Annual Conference.
  17. ^ a b Cohen-Vogel, L. (2011). “Staffing to the test” are today’s school personnel practices evidence based? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33(4), 483-505. doi: 10.3102/0162373711419845.
  18. ^ Clotfelter, C.T.; Ladd, H.F.; Vigdor, J. (2005). "Who teaches whom? Race and the distribution of novice teachers". Economics of Education Review. 24 (4): 377–392. doi:10.1016/j.econedurev.2004.06.008.
  19. ^ a b Youngs, P.; Pogodzinski, B.; Galey, S. (2015). "How Labor Management Relations and Human Resource Policies Affect the Process of Teacher Assignment in Urban School Districts". Educational Administration Quarterly. 51 (2): 214–246. doi:10.1177/0013161X14529148. S2CID 144864622.
  20. ^ Useem, E., & Farley, E. (2004). Philadelphia’s teacher hiring and school assignment practices: Comparisons with other districts. Retrieved from Youngs, P., Pogodzinski, B., & Galey, S. (2015). How Labor Management Relations and Human Resource Policies Affect the Process of Teacher Assignment in Urban School Districts. Educational
  21. ^ "Find archives & local records". Archived from the original on July 2, 2001. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  22. ^ "Text of the DPR n° 416 del 31 maggio 1974 ("Assigned Laws about the school")" (in Italian). 1994 [31 May 1974]. Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  23. ^ "L 289/2002: Text of the law n° 289 del 27 dicembre 2002 ("legge finanziaria 2003")" (in Italian). 2003 [27 Dec 2002]. Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  24. ^ "POA2020 Choice of Schools List by School Net for Central Allocation". Education Bureau. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  25. ^ "四大名校網範圍" [Four famous school network scope]. Hong Kong Economic Journal. 15 July 2013. Archived from the original on July 18, 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2020.