What Does Research Say About School District Consolidation?

REL Northwest:

One way REL Northwest connects practitioners with research is by posting responses to inquiries made to the Ask A REL Reference Desk. The free Reference Desk service provides educators, policymakers, and community members with prompt, authoritative resources on topical issues, customized to their local needs. Recent responses point to research on topics such as mathematics interventions, data-driven decision making, and the impact of early childhood education programs.
The latest inquiry is on a topic that’s receiving increased national attention due to budget challenges: whether consolidating school districts might result in lower overall costs for education. Unfortunately, research on consolidation does not offer definitive guidance for making such decisions. There are several reasons for this: empirical studies of consolidation employ different analytical approaches to data; older data in some studies yield results that may not be representative of current district conditions; studies do not uniformly separate costs related to merging only a narrow range of district services from costs related to merging entire districts or combining schools; different studies focus on different costs or estimate costs in different ways; and much of the literature consists of advocacy.