Should Residents be Allowed to Create New School Districts?

At least 36 school districts have broken away from bigger districts since 2000. In most cases, these new school districts are comprised of wealthier households, and they are usually white. The result is often that public schools near where the new school district was formed are left with a worse problem than they had before. State and federal judges are attempting to put an end to this practice.

One example is the Shelby County School District in Shelby, Tennessee. Six communities have chosen to splinter off from the county-operated school district to form their own public school districts. In Tennessee, the only requirement to start a school district is that there be at least 1,500 students and that the majority of voters approve the idea. In the wake of these new school districts, Shelby County School District officials have had to slash their budget by 20 percent, close seven campuses and lay off approximately 1,000 teachers.

Tennessee is not the only place where residents are trying to start their own public school districts. Residents in Gardendale, Alabama, attempted the same thing, but a federal judge has ordered that their attempts are not constitutional. Before residents tried to start their own district they were part of the Jefferson County school system. In making his decision, the judge found that the attempt was discriminatory despite efforts from community leaders to try to prove that their only interest was in a better education for students in the geographical area.

EdBuild, a national coalition to stop this movement, says that there is a positive effect when residents decide they may want to start their own district. CEO Rebecca Sibilia says that it raises everyone’s collective conscious so that all students receive a better education.

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