A school district is a special-purpose district that operates local public primary and secondary schools in various nations.
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, 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 States 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 of schools, 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. As of 1951[update] 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.
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." Older and more populous municipalities "tend to have boundaries that closely match those of a single school district." Noting that most modern school districts were forms 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."
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 (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers, and New York City), where the schools are operated directly by the municipalities.
The Hawaii State Department of Education functions as a single statewide school district, unique among states.[a]
According to a 2021 study, the demographics of voters who elect local school boards in the United States tends not to align with the demographics of the students. This gap is "most pronounced in majority nonwhite jurisdictions and school districts with the largest racial achievement gaps."
There were 130,000 school districts in the country in 1930, with an average student population of 150. From 1942 to 1951 the number of school districts declined from 108,579 to 70,452, a decrease by 38,127 or 35%. 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.
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.
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. By 2016 there were about 13,000 school districts, and the average student population was about 5,000.
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.
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.
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"). 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.
Main article: Primary One Admission System
In Hong Kong, the Education Bureau divides primary schools into 36 districts, known as school nets, for its Primary One Admission System. Of the 36 districts, districts 34 and 41 in Kowloon and districts 11 and 12 in Hong Kong Island are considered the most prestigious.