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A school district is a special-purpose district that operates local public primary or secondary schools or both in various countries.

North America

United States

For a more comprehensive list, see Lists of school districts in the United States.

In the U.S., most K–12 public schools function as units of local school districts. A school district usually operate several elementary, middle, and high schools. The largest urban and suburban districts operate 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.[1] 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 political. Most school districts operate as independent local governmental units with exclusive authority over K–12 public educational operations and policies. The extent of their control is set by state-level law. Litigation against school districts is common and some law firms specialize in education law. Districts typically maintain professional liability insurance in order to pay its settlements and legal liabilities.[1] As of 2023 in most U.S. states, public school districts may lay taxes to fund their operations.[2] In others, such as Maine, some school districts are able to lay taxes and others are not.[2]

Independent school districts often exercise authority over a school system that is separate but similar to a town's or a county's powers. These include the power to enter contacts, use eminent domain, and to issue binding rules and regulations affecting school policies and operations. The power of school districts to tax and spend is generally more limited. For example, many school districts in New York state require a majority of voters living in the district or the local government to approval their annual budget, but school districts in Virginia have no taxing authority and must depend on another local government (county, city, or town) for funding. A district's governing body, usually called a school board, is typically elected by direct popular vote but may be appointed by other governmental officials. The governing body might also be known as a "board of trustees," "board of education," "school committee," etc.. This body usually appoints or hires an experienced public school administrator to function as the district's superintendent of schools – a district's chief executive. The superintendent oversees daily operations, decisions and implements the policies of the board. 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.[3] 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.[4]

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. A 2010 study by economist William A. Fischel found that "two-thirds of medium-to-large American cities have boundaries that substantially overlap those of a single school district" with substantial regional and state variations in the degree of overlap, "ranging from nearly perfect congruence in New England, New Jersey, and Virginia, to hardly any in Illinois, Texas, and Florida."[5] Older and more populous municipalities "tend to have boundaries that closely match those of a single school district."[5] Noting that most modern school districts were formed by consolidating one-room school districts in the first seven decades of the 20th century, Fischel argues that "outside the South, these consolidations were consented to by local voters" who "preferred districts whose boundaries conformed to their everyday interactions rather than formal units of government" and that "[t]he South ended up with county-based school districts because segregation imposed diseconomies of scale on district operations and required larger land-area districts."[5]

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 a population of over 125,000 (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, and New York City), where the schools are operated directly by the municipalities.[6]

The Hawaii State Department of Education functions as a single statewide school district, unique among states.[7][8][a]

According to a 2021 study, the demographics of voters who elect local school boards in the United States tend to be different from the demographics of the students. This difference is "most pronounced in majority nonwhite jurisdictions and school districts with the largest racial achievement gaps."[9]


There were 130,000 school districts in the country in 1930, with an average student population of 150.[10] From 1942 to 1951 the number of school districts declined from 108,579 to 70,452, a decrease of 38,127 or 35%.[11] 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 had a large number of rural school districts.[4]

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.[12]

In the 2022 Census of Governments, the United States Census Bureau enumerated the following numbers of school systems in the United States:[13]

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.[14] By 2016 there were about 13,000 school districts, and the average student population was about 5,000.[10]


This article may not provide balanced coverage on school districts in states across the U.S. Please improve this article or discuss the issue on the talk page. (December 2010)

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.


This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (January 2024) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

In England and Wales, school boards were established in 1870, and abolished in 1902, with the county council and county borough councils becoming the local education authorities.[23]

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 and teachers are predominately funded by the states of Germany, which also are in control of the overall education policies. On the other hand, school buildings are mostly run and funded by municipal governments on different levels of the municipal system (municipalities proper, districts), depending on the size and specialization of a certain school or the population size of a certain municipality. As with other fields of government, for more specialized schools, special government bodies ("Zweckverband") can be established, where municipalities, and not voters, are members; these are to a certain degree comparable to a school district. Other arrangements are possible: certain types of special schools in North Rhine-Westphalia are run by the Landschaftsverbände. There also exist private schools, mostly funded by the States, but run by private entities like churches or foundations.

In Italy, school districts were established in 1974 by the "Provvedimenti Delegati sulla scuola" ("Assigned Laws [to the Government] about the school").[24] 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.[25]

In the Republic of Ireland, 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) administer a minority of secondary schools, a few primary schools, and much further education. (Most schools are neither organized geographically nor publicly managed, although the Department of Education inspects and funds them and pays teachers' salaries.) Each ETB area comprises one or more local authority areas, with city or county councilors forming the bulk of the ETB board. The ETBs was formed in 2005 by amalgamating Vocational Education Committees established in 1930, also based on local government areas.


In Hong Kong, the Education Bureau divides primary schools into 36 districts, known as school nets, for its Primary One Admission System.[26] Of the 36 districts, districts 34 and 41 in Kowloon and districts 11 and 12 in Hong Kong Island are considered the most prestigious.[27]

In Iranian cities school kids normal registrations are limited by school districts, register is online at and the parent sees schools within range online.[28]


See also


  1. ^ The District of Columbia Public Schools operates district public schools in Washington, D.C. and the Puerto Rico Department of Education operates all public schools in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.


  1. ^ a b Marcos Antonio Mendoza, The Limits of Insurance as Governance: Professional Liability Coverage for Civil Rights Claims Against Public School Districts
  2. ^ a b Pinho, Rute (9 March 2023). Board of Education Taxing Authority (PDF) (Report). Office of Legislative Research, Connecticut General Assembly. 2023-R-0094.
  3. ^ "School Districts" (Archive) U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on June 20, 2015.
  4. ^ 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).
  5. ^ a b c Fischel, William A., or The Congruence of American School Districts with Other Local Government Boundaries: A Google-Earth Exploration, SSRN (April 1, 2010).
  6. ^ "Local Government Handbook" (PDF) (7th ed.). New York Department of State, Division of Local Government Services. March 13, 2018. p. 93. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 27, 2020. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  7. ^ Linda Jacobson, Report Faults Hawaii's Statewide School District, Education Week (December 10, 2003).
  8. ^ Jan Zulich, Hawaii's School System Is One of a Kind, The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 70, No. 7 (March 1989), pp. 546-549.
  9. ^ Kogan, Vladimir; Lavertu, Stéphane; Peskowitz, Zachary (2021). "The Democratic Deficit in U.S. Education Governance". American Political Science Review. 115 (3): 1082–1089. doi:10.1017/S0003055421000162. ISSN 0003-0554. S2CID 214493859.
  10. ^ a b Burnette, Daarel II (2016-02-17). "Consolidation Push Roils Vermont Landscape". Education Week. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  11. ^ "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).
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "Table 9. Public School Systems by Type of Organization and State: 2022 [CG2200ORG09]".
  14. ^ USA Today published March 13, 2012, page A1,"Property taxes start to decline"
  15. ^ "District History".
  16. ^ "People ex rel. Vick v. Kirkham, 301 Ill. 45 (1921) | Caselaw Access Project".
  17. ^ Kentucky Revised Statutes § 160.020.
  18. ^ Kentucky Revised Statutes § 160.010.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "120A.05 – 2014 Minnesota Statutes". Minnesota Legislature - Office of the Revisor of Statutes. Archived from the original on Apr 18, 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  21. ^ "About Us", from Burnet Consolidated Independent School District.
  22. ^ "D. Special-Purpose Governments", Ohio State University. Accessed 2008-01-05.
  23. ^ "Education: School Boards". Powys County Archives. Archived from the original on July 2, 2001. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ "L 289/2002: Text of the law n° 289 del 27 dicembre 2002 ("legge finanziaria 2003")" (in Italian). 2003 [27 Dec 2002]. Archived from the original on 2011-11-22. Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  26. ^ "POA2020 Choice of Schools List by School Net for Central Allocation". Education Bureau. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  27. ^ "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.
  28. ^ "اطلاعاتی برای ثبت‌نام دانش‌آموزان در کلاس اول دبستاناطلاعاتی برای ثبت‌نام دانش‌آموزان در کلاس اول دبستان - تسنیم". خبرگزاری تسنیم | Tasnim.

Further reading