Legislative Analyst Office suggests smallest school districts too expensive to run

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Legislative Analyst’s Office

A graph showing the size variation among California's nearly 1,000 school districts.

A new study by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office suggests that tiny school districts could benefit from consolidation, but the study discourages legislators from mandating it through law.

There are small school districts, and then there are very small ones. Forty percent of the state’s districts enroll fewer than 1,000 students. Ten percent enroll fewer than 100 students. Most are in California’s rural areas.

The analyst, a non-partisan researcher for state lawmakers, crunched the numbers for small school district performance and finances and found that the smallest districts tend to spend more money on overhead costs than larger districts. They also spend less money, proportionately, on teachers.

For economic reasons, the idea of consolidating small school districts into bigger ones has surfaced again.

Supporters of this idea say it would save money; opponents argue that small school districts offer more personalized education on an efficient scale.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office says it found little proof that a small district necessarily leads to better student performance. It suggested that legislators do away with state incentives for school districts to remain small.

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