Tiebout in the Country: The Inevitable Politics of Rural School Consolidation
12 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2013
Date Written: October 23, 2013
This article explains why school consolidation issues are especially difficult in rural America. Consolidation is most appropriate when adjacent districts have similar preferences for taxation and spending on schools. In that case, economies of scale can be reaped without interfering much with resident preferences on taxes and school quality. In urban areas, residents signal these preferences by moving into (or out of) school districts that match their preferences, a process known as Tiebout sorting. As a result, school consolidation decisions can be based on good information about resident preferences. The basic claim of this article is that Tiebout sorting works much less well in rural areas for a variety of reasons. This means that consolidation decisions are based on thinner information; consequently, school consolidation is more contentious and "political" in rural America.
The article then argues that, given this situation, a Legislature interested in exploring rural school consolidation would do well to consider using legal and political processes that would enhance the ability of residents to express and record their preferences. Newer forms of political engagement that call on modern technology are available to do this and they may be effective in this context given the size and level of interest of the groups involved.
Keywords: rural schools, consolidation, Tiebout model, taxes, school quality, preferences
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