- The number of communities trying to break away from their districts continues to grow — in the past two years, 27 communities across 13 states have tried to secede from their districts, and 10 have succeeded, according to a new report from nonprofit EdBuild. And since 2000, 128 communities have attempted to secede from their districts, with 73 succeeding and 17 more still in the process.
- In many of these cases, these changes are happening because of local school funding methods — school districts get a significant portion of their funding from local property taxes, meaning that wealthy areas usually imply better-funded districts. So, when a wealthy area separates itself from the rest of the community, it typically leaves behind fewer resources for a needier population, the report notes.
- "Our school funding structure means that, whatever the express motivation for a proposed school district split, 'local control' through secession will always be tied to money," the report says. "Incentivizing communities to opt out of the public good, create inefficiencies, and keep their money for themselves will only further the economic divide in our country and segregate America’s next generation."
It's been nearly 65 years since the controversial Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision — which deemed the segregation of public schools unconstitutional — and close to 40 years since the San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez decision, which said the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause can't be used in challenging school finance formulas. But this new report raises questions about the role of public schools, as well as socioeconomic segregation and its relation to unequal funding across districts.
"The notion of allowing small enclaves to withdraw a portion of their taxes to serve only themselves is unique to education. Imagine allowing a citizen to withhold taxes for a library that they don’t use or a sidewalk they don’t walk on," the authors write. "Surely, there is a legitimate argument to be made for each, but that argument never outweighs the case for the public good."
In addition, "beyond any policy measures specific to secession, states must reimagine their education funding systems in a manner that gives all students a chance at success," the report continues. State funding formulas have routinely been deemed inequitable — especially in supporting higher-poverty districts — and revamping these formulas, both at a state and district level, has proven to be essential in ensuring better student outcomes that support all young learners.
The report discusses ways states can prevent communities from "using secession to segregate students or to undermine equity and efficiency," the authors write. Similar to Florida and Georgia, other states can follow suit by legally outlawing areas from being able to secede. If it's not possible or feasible to enact state law, the report also notes that officials can set high standards for creating new districts as a way to de-incentivize communities from doing so. A last policy-based suggestion, the authors note, is to enact localized measures — for example, if a community is trying to secede, voters in the proposed district and the one it's trying to leave have to approve the move.