Comparing Kansas District Numbers to Other States

Since the topic of school district consolidation comes up from time to time in Kansas, I’ve been looking through some national statistics. Here I’m going to present a few observations.

How many districts are in each state?

  1. There’s a wide number of school districts across states. One state, Hawaii, has but one district. On the other end, everything really is bigger in Texas, including the number of districts: 1,243.
  2. The “average” state (using the median state) has 204 districts.
  3. Kansas (as of the 2007-08 school year) had 302 districts, meaning that it has more districts than the average state. But its population density is less than half of the national average, so that’s not surprising: You may need more districts if you don’t want to bus students for long distances.

What’s the typical number of students in a district?

  1. The median state had 2,851 students per district.
  2. Kansas has fewer–1,551 students per district.

How many students are in each school?

A number of education schools think that smaller schools are better for students.

  1. The median state has 445 students per school.
  2. Kansas has 321 students per school.

Comparing Kansas to states with a similar population density

Given the current model of “doing school,” in which students are bussed to bricks-and-mortar schools, population density has a role to play in deciding how many schools that can be supported.

Population across the states ranges from a low of one person per mile in Alaska to 1,176 per person in New Jersey. The median state has 450 people per square mile. Kansas is on the less-dense side of the scale, with 33 people per square mile.

One way to put the number of Kansas school districts is to compare the state with other states with similar population densities. So I looked for states that have a population density that is equal to that of Kansas, plus or minus 33 percent. Here’s what I found:

  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada*
  • Oregon
  • Utah

Kansas has more districts than any state in the comparison group

Kansas has the most number of districts of the six states. As of 2007-08, it had 302. The state with the next largest, Nebraska, had 258. The median for the six states was 183 districts.

Kansas has the second-lowest number of students per district

Nebraska had the least number of students in an “average” district, at 1,129. Kansas was had the second-lowest number, at 1,551. Given the number of districts, that’s not surprising.

Kansas has the second-most number of schools

Colorado lead the pack with 1,783 schools. Kansas had 1,461, and the median state had 1,194.

Kansas has the second-lowest number of students per school

Nebraska has 244 students per school, on average. Kansas has 321.

Bonus observation: Kansas has more counties than any of the comparison states

Kansas has 105 counties, far more than any of the comparison states. Colorado, with a strong tradition of county governance, has only 64, or nearly 40 percent fewer. Nebraska has 93. Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, have 44, 17, 36, and 29, respectively.

A warning:

Note that the U.S.government is a significant (perhaps a majority) landowner in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and and perhaps Oregon, a fact that might affect the number of counties.

Conclusions

Finding the “right” number of schools and school authorities (in this case, districts) would best be determined in a market of people freely buying and selling educational services. We don’t, however, have that situation.  Instead, we have political control over every aspect of schooling, including funding levels, student assignments to schools (often by boundaries rather than choice), and curricula.

With that in mind, it might be useful to compare Kansas to other states on a number of measures, including the number of schools and school districts. The numbers suggest that Kansas, relative to the states selected for having a similar population density, has too many school districts. It might also have too many schools, but I’d want to research the literature on the “ideal” school size, which has been the subject of various experiments funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other education reform groups.

* Nevada fell just under the 66 percent mark, but it was so close that I included it.

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