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Public school district (United States)

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Glossary of education terms

School district terms
Academic performance
School board
School bond election
School district
Education reform terms
Common Core
No Child Left Behind Act
Race to the Top
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See also
School board elections portal

Glossary of education terms

A public school district is a geographical unit for the local administration of elementary or secondary schools. It is a special-purpose government entity that can be administered independently, or be dependent on the local government, such as a city or county.[1] There are approximately 13,800 public school districts in the United States. These districts collectively educate approximately 55.2 million students.[2]


In most school districts, the school board is at the top of its organizational hierarchy. The board provides oversight and governance for a district and its schools. Below the school board is the superintendent of schools, followed by executive officials or assistant superintendents who lead various departments within the district's bureaucracy. A school principal manages the daily operations of a given school and reports to the district's superintendent.


School board

See also: School board

A board of education, board of directors, school board or school committee is the title given to the governing body of a school district. The authority of school boards differ among districts and states. School boards are responsible for the appointment and dismissal of the district superintendent, to whom they delegate the routine operations of the district. Some school boards may have the authority to set and levy tax rates, recommend measures to a legislative body or be involved in personnel decisions.


A superintendent, chief education officer or chief executive officer is the head administrative official of a school district. They provide administrative oversight of the students, public schools and educational services within their district. Superintendents are most often hired by the district's school board. In many states, superintendents also serve as non-voting members on the board. The superintendent is responsible for keeping the board informed of events and developments in the district and for making recommendations about changes to daily district operations.


This is the organizational chart for Atlanta Public Schools, which demonstrates the organizational structure of a school district: APS organization chart.jpg


School district maps in Monroe County, Pennsylvania

Consolidated school district

A consolidated or reorganized school district indicates that it was formed from two or more districts.

Elementary school district

Elementary school districts educate students who are at lower grade or age levels.

Independent school district

Independent school districts can take different forms depending on the state. In Texas, independent denotes that the district is separate from any county or municipal-level entity. Similarly, in Kentucky, independent districts are separate from county districts. In Minnesota, independent denotes any school district created since July 1, 1957.[3]

Intermediate school district

An intermediate school district is a government agency usually organized at the county or multi-county level that assists local school districts in providing programs and services. These districts operate outside the charter of a local school district. The exact role of these agencies varies by state.

Joint school district

A joint school district denotes that the district includes territory from more than one county. A joint state school district means that the district includes territory from more than one state.

Secondary school district

Secondary school districts educate students who are at higher grade or age levels. These are also known as high school districts.

Traditional school district

A traditional school district is an agency responsible for providing free public education for school-age children residing within its jurisdiction. This category excludes local supervisory unions that provide management services for a group of associated school districts; regional education service agencies that typically provide school districts with research, testing and data processing services; state and federally operated school districts; and other agencies that do not fall into these groupings.[4]

Unified school district

A unified school district is a district that provides both elementary and secondary education services and instruction.[4]


Federal, state and local governments contribute to the funding of school districts in the United States. States typically provide about 43 percent of all elementary and secondary education funding. Local governments generally contribute about 44 percent of the total and the federal government contributes about 13 percent of all direct expenditures. Historically, elementary and secondary education was funded largely by local governments, but in the 1970s state education spending began to overtake local education spending.[5]

Federal funding

The federal government spends more than $40 billion annually on primary and secondary education programs. Much of the funding is discretionary, meaning it is set by Congress annually. Funding flows primarily through the U.S. Department of Education, although other federal agencies administer some funding for education related activities.[5]

State funding

States rely primarily on income and sales taxes to fund public education. State legislatures generally determine the level and distribution of funding by following rules and procedures that vary among states. Most states use funding formulas based on student enrollment to determine the allocation of funding for a district. In addition to enrollment figures, some formulas also include additional variables, such as the number of students with disabilities, the number of students living in poverty or the number of students for whom English is a second language.[5]

Local funding

Local governments rely on property taxes support most of public education funding. Local governments collect taxes from residential and commercial properties as a direct revenue source for the school district. Property-rich areas tend to collect more in property taxes. Although poorer communities may use higher tax rates to compensate for the smaller property tax base, they still tend to raise less revenue for their local school districts than wealthier communities.[5]

See also

External links