Thursday, September 2, 2010

On school consolidation is pushing, via both an article and an editorial, a study that argues that much money can be saved by consolidating government-run school districts at the county level.

Mcihigan's funding scheme for its government-run schools is pretty byzantine, and the article was the first time I figured out what the "Washtenaw Intermediate School District" actually does.

The key omissions in the article and editorial are two. First, there is no sense that, as Caroline Hoxby has argued, having many small districts may lead to better outcomes through competition. When districts do not cover a lot of space, parents can easily change districts by moving without having to change jobs as well. The threat of parental mobility, combined with a strong link between enrollment numbers and funding, introduces some welcome competitive pressure to what is generally a very rigid government-run and highly unionized system. Second, there is also some value in having heterogeneous systems so that parents can match sort geographically based on their tradeoff between tax bill and school spending. Aggregating government-run schools up to the county level would largely eliminate both of these advantages associated with smaller, and more heterogeneous, school districts.

This is not to say that economies could not, and should not, be realized on non-instructional aspects such as transport, or that individual districts could not save money by cutting administrative jobs.

Finally, it strikes me as odd that thinks of consolidation as "bold change". Voucherizing the system would be bold change. Moving boxes around on an organization chart? Not so much.

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