Washington, D.C. – A new report released today by the Center for American Progress finds that the existence of small, nonremote school districts in New Jersey burdens the state with an estimated $100 million in unnecessary costs each year. The report, “Size Matters: A Look at School District Consolidation,” looks at the unnecessary costs associated with small school districts across the country and puts forward recommendations for how policymakers can address the unique challenges faced by small districts.
“Policymakers need to rethink how we manage small districts, and we need to recognize that an education system designed 200 years ago may no longer be the right system today,” said Ulrich Boser, senior fellow and author of the report.
While researchers have long known that school-district size impacts how productively education dollars are spent, this report calculates national and state-by-state numbers estimating the scope of the problem. According to the report, New Jersey has some of the largest amounts of lost capacity due to the existence of small districts —money that may not have been spent if the district was larger. Ten states account for more than $650 million in lost capacity or about 68 percent of the total and New Jersey accounts for over $100 million in unnecessary costs.
With tight education budgets for the foreseeable future, the report offers several recommendations for dealing with the issues small school districts are confronting:
- New Jersey should avoid one-size fits all approaches to maximizing district size. While small school districts may suffer from economies of scale, the report’s author cautions that the best solution for one district may be different for another district. Large, systemic consolidation efforts have their own set of problems, according to the author. In pursuing reforms, policymakers ought to consider the local context and needs of school districts as well as ways to improve education management systems.
- New Jersey and local districts must reform school-management systems. Policymakers need to create performance-focused management systems that encourage flexibility and innovation, but at the same time, emphasize the importance of improving educational outcomes.
- New Jersey and local districts should consider reorganization and the sharing of services and resources where possible. New Jersey can defray some of the costs associated with small school districts by creating state-supported education agencies. Alternatively, small school districts in the state can band together to form Boards of Educational Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) as many districts in Colorado and New York have done. Both state-supported education agencies and BOCES often allow for the efficient sharing of services relating to workers’ compensation, health care, and special education.
Read the full report: Size Matters: A Look at School-District Consolidation.
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