In the last two years, 10 communities seceded from larger school districts to start their own districts, and as of May, there were 17 districts attempting secession, District Administration reports. Since 2000, 73 new school districts were formed by successful secessions.
The success of a secession attempt often depends on state laws, which vary, according to District Administration. In some states, residents of both the proposed district and the existing larger one vote on secession.
When wealthier neighborhoods leave a school district, the original district can suffer financially due to loss of tax revenues. A report by EdBuild says successful secession attempts are often in higher-income areas, and sometimes a secession in one district triggers others in the region and creates a domino effect.
in its “Fractured” report, EdBuild claims district lines tend to divide students by race and class. The practice is gaining traction. Two years ago, the mostly white community of Gardendale, Alabama, attempted to secede from Jefferson County. The attempt was rejected in court due to concerns over racial injustice, though Gardendale’s mayor claims race isn’t a factor in the secession attempt.
Though some segregation issues were resolved by the ruling, there are still intangible problems regarding equity and access that aren’t as easy to address. New districts in affluent areas are likely to take tax funds from other parts of an existing district with a higher poverty rate.
Another trend in school district shapeshifting is to consolidate districts. Lawmakers in Illinois are considering consolidating some of the state’s districts to save money, and research shows mergers make the most financial sense when districts have 1,500 or fewer students.
When consolidation doesn’t work due to vast geographical distances, districts can enter into agreements based on regional association, allowing them to work together to form larger purchasing cooperatives, present professional development opportunities, and share curriculum directors.