School District Secession Is a Pretty Minor Issue in 48 States

The 74 reports that we’re seeing an epidemic of suburban areas seceding from big urban school districts:

EdBuild argues that residents who push to create their own school systems are often motivated by one overarching factor: school funding. “We are seeing over and over that it’s about the money,” said Zahava Stadler, director of policy at EdBuild, a think tank focused on education funding equity.

….When one district splits into two, the move often creates a wealthy school system that leaves behind one with high poverty and poor funding. Since 2000, at least 128 communities have launched campaigns to secede from their local school districts to create their own, smaller education systems. Of those, 74 have been successful, 11 of them finalized in just the past few years. Another 16 secession efforts are currently underway.

Secession efforts of any kind are almost always about money.¹ Rich areas want to keep their money to themselves, and the way to do it is to secede. They generally also want to stay white, and secession paves the way for that too. The whole thing is loathsome and offensive.

However, it’s not really very widespread. It turns out that of the 74 school district secessions, 47 are in Maine and Alabama and another six took place in Shelby County, Tennessee, a year after a school district merger. Outside of that, there have been 21 secessions since 2000, or about one per year in a country with more than 13,000 school districts. In other words, we might have a Maine and Alabama problem, but in the other 48 states there’s not really much going on.

¹On a national level, language often plays a role too. But even then, there’s usually a money angle as well.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate