Travel consolidating at cost

School district consolidation is a striking phenomenon.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 117,108 school districts provided elementary and secondary education in 1939-40.

All districts require a superintendent and a school board, for example, and the same central administration may be able to serve a significant range of enrollment with little change in total costs.

Second, education requires certain physical capital, such as a heating system and science laboratories, which require a certain scale to operate efficiently and therefore have a high cost per pupil in small districts.

In this context, the cost of education is not the same as education spending but is instead the amount a school district would have to spend to obtain a given level of performance, as measured by test scores, graduation rates and perhaps other output measures.

To put it another way, economies of size exist if spending on education per pupil declines as the number of pupils goes up, controlling for school district performance.

First, consolidated school districts usually make use of larger schools, which implies that average transportation distance must increase.John Yinger (left) and William Duncombe, both professors at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, have studied the economics of size in public education.Photo by Candi Patterson/Center for Policy Research, Syracuse University The aid bonus from consolidation can be quite large.Some factors indicate consolidation is likely to tap into economies of size and thereby lower these costs, but other factors suggest consolidation might actually cause costs per pupil to rise.As a result, we now turn to empirical studies of consolidation, which can determine whether the net impact of consolidation on costs per pupil is positive or negative.

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