Hartford Foundation Sponsors Report on K-12 School District Regionalization
Report finds mixed results in school regionalization efforts and calls for consideration of deconsolidation of larger districts
As Connecticut continues to respond to budget challenges and declining school enrollment, some school districts have been considering regionalizing their K-12 education services as a way to reduce costs. In an effort to get a clearer understanding of the potential educational and community impacts of school and district regionalization, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has sponsored a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of K-12 regionalization to help inform those efforts. The literature review focuses on what is known about the effects of K-12 regionalization on education expenditures and educational achievement, based on recent empirical studies.
“The Hartford Foundation is committed to the availability of high-quality, impartial research,” said Scott Gaul, the Hartford Foundation’s Director of Research and Evaluation. “As policymakers continue to consider strategies to reduce the costs of government, the issue of regionalizing services continues to draw attention. This research is intended to provide a clearer picture on the potential benefits and challenges of regionalizing school districts in an effort to support a shared understanding and to support informed decision-making.”
Conducted by Connecticut-based Rodriguez Data Solutions, LLC, the report looks at initiatives to promote K-12 regionalization in several states including Connecticut, Maine, New York and Vermont. The review of the research points out that policymakers often promote K-12 regionalization as a way to achieve cost savings, but often fail to consider the consequences for student educational achievement.
“Generalizations about regionalization oversimplify a complex topic. K-12 regionalization can actually increase costs and harm educational outcomes,” the report concludes. “There is not a one-size-fits-all answer on K-12 regionalization. Results from other states have been mixed when it comes to large-scale regionalization.”
School district expenditures reflect a mix of what a school district can afford and what taxpayers want to spend, so expenditures alone are not a complete picture. Research indicates that both economies of scale (cost reductions) and diseconomies of scale (cost increases) are possible when regionalizing school districts.
Economies of scale might be achieved by:
- reducing central office staff
- employing fewer teachers
- maintaining fewer buildings
- higher volume and lower cost purchasing
- lower wages / salaries
Diseconomies of scale similarly may arise through:
- higher transportation costs
- higher wages / salaries
- increasing central office staff
The report considers how the number of students in a district affects educational achievement. While there is no definitive answer on optimum school size, research on Connecticut suggests that a district with 2,500 to 3,000 students may be both cost-effective and foster educational achievement. This roughly matches the range suggested in research from other locations. In at-risk communities, research suggests that elementary school enrollment should not exceed 300 students, and high school enrollment should not exceed 500.
The report also looked at potential risks associated with K-12 school regionalization. In rural communities, closing a town’s school can cause the social fabric of a community to unravel. Research also suggests that “impoverished regions often benefit from smaller schools and districts and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs.”
Perhaps the most significant finding of the report was the potential benefits of school district deconsolidation. The literature review suggests that deconsolidation of large school districts be considered as an option for cost savings. In Connecticut, it is estimated that the total savings from the 129 smallest school districts would match the combined equivalent per-pupil savings from the three largest school districts. Consequently, a significant reduction in statewide education costs requires reducing per-pupil spending in urban areas, not just in small rural districts.
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, established in 1925, is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. It is dedicated to putting philanthropy into action to create lasting solutions that result in vibrant communities within the Greater Hartford region. The Foundation’s grantmaking is made possible through generous gifts from individuals, families, and organizations. It has awarded grants of more than $720 million since its founding. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.
Hartford Foundation K-12 Regionalization Executive Summary
Hartford Foundation K-12 Regionalization Report