A school district is a form of special-purpose district which serves to operate local public primary and secondary schools, for formal academic or scholastic teaching, in various nations.
In the United States, public schools belong to school districts, which are governed by school boards. Each district is an independent special-purpose government, or dependent school systems, under the guidelines of each U.S. state government and local school boards. A school district is a legally separate body corporate and politic. School districts are local governments with powers similar to that of a town or a county including taxation and eminent domain, except in Virginia, whose school divisions have no taxing authority and must depend on another local government (county, city, or town) for funding. Its governing body, which is typically elected by direct popular vote but may be appointed by other governmental officials, is called a school board, board of trustees, board of education, school committee, or the like. This body appoints a superintendent, usually an experienced public school administrator, to function as the district's chief executive for carrying out day-to-day decisions and policy implementations. The school board may also exercise a quasi-judicial function in serious employee or student discipline matters.
School districts in the Midwest and West tend to cross municipal boundaries, while school districts in New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions tend to adhere to city, township, and/or county boundaries. As of 1951 school districts were independent governmental units in 26 states, while in 17 states there were mixes of independent school districts and school districts subordinate to other local governments. In nine states there were only school districts subordinate to local governments.
Not all school systems constitute school districts as distinct bodies corporate. In most Southern states, school systems operate either as an arm of county government, or at least share coextensive boundaries with the state's counties. In Maryland, most school systems are run at the county level, but the Baltimore City system operates separately, at a county-equivalent level. Other states, such as New York, have both independent school districts and school systems that are subordinate to cities. The Hawaii State Department of Education functions as a single statewide school district. This is unique among the states, but the District of Columbia Public Schools operates district public schools in Washington, DC and the Puerto Rico Department of Education operates all public schools in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, thus they also function as single school districts.
From 1942 to 1951 the number of school districts declined from 108,579 to 70,452, a decrease by 38,12 or 35%. Many states had passed laws facilitating school district consolidation. In 1951 the majority of the school districts in existence were rural school districts only providing elementary education, and some school districts did not operate schools but instead provided transportation to other schools. The Midwest (North Central U.S.) had a large number of rural school districts.
Previously areas of the Unorganized Borough of Alaska were not served by school districts, but instead served by schools directly operated by the Alaska Department of Education and by Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) schools. The state schools were transferred to the Alaska State-Operated School System (SOS) after the Alaska Legislature created it in 1971; that agency was terminated in 1975, with its schools transferred to the newly created Alaska Unorganized Borough School District, which was broken apart into twenty-one school districts the following year.
In the 2002 Census of Governments, the United States Census Bureau enumerated the following numbers of school systems in the United States:
School districts in the US have reduced the number of their employees by 3.3%, or 270,000 between 2008 and 2012, owing to a decline in property taxes.
Although these terms can vary slightly between various states and regions, these are typical definitions for school district constitution:
These terms may not appear in a district's name, even though the condition may apply.
Outside the United States, autonomous districts or equivalent authorities often represent various groups seeking education autonomy. In European history, as in much of the world, religious (confessional), linguistic, and ethnic divisions have been a significant factor in school organization. This paradigm is shifting.
In England and Wales, school boards were established in 1870, and abolished in 1902, with county council and county borough councils becoming the local education authorities.
In France, the system of the carte scolaire was dismantled by the beginning of the 2007 school year. More school choice has been given to French students; however, priority is given to those who meet the following criteria:
In Italy, school districts were established in 1974 by the "Provvedimenti Delegati sulla scuola" ("Assigned Laws [to the Government] about the school"). Each district must contain a minimum of 10,000 inhabitants. The national government attempted to link the local schools with local society and culture and local governments. The school districts were dissolved in 2003 by the "legge finanziaria" (law about the government budget) in an attempt to trim the national budget.