From 1930 through 1970, a gradual consolidation process eliminated 9 of every 10 school districts nationally. The number of districts in the U.S. fell dramatically, to fewer than 20,000 from over 120,000.
Illinois followed similar trends. In 1942, Illinois had more than 12,000 districts – the most of any state in the nation. Over 10,000 of these were one-room schools with an average enrollment of 12 students. By 1955, the state had cut the number of districts to 2,242, and by the year 2000, the district count had fallen to 894.
Today, Illinois has 859 school districts. Nearly 45 percent are elementary, 12 percent are secondary (high school), and 45 percent are unit districts, meaning they serve both elementary and secondary students.
Despite the massive reduction in Illinois school districts, the state is still not efficient when compared with its 14 peer states that also serve 1 million or more students. Florida, for example, averages 40,012 students per district. Georgia, North Carolina, California and Virginia all serve more than twice the 2,400 students per district Illinois does.
If Illinois school districts served the same number of students as school districts in California, the most populous state in the country, serve, Illinois would have just 342 school districts. And if Illinois school districts served the same number of students as North Carolina’s, Illinois would have just one-fifth of the school districts it has today – and one-fifth of the administrative bloat.
Small student populations in many Illinois districts also contribute to the inefficiencies of Illinois education. Of Illinois’ 859 school districts, more than one-third serve fewer than 600 students. An additional layer of administration, over and above what already exists at the school level, is excessive and expensive for school districts of this size.
There are many school districts that oversee too few schools. Twenty-five percent of school districts in Illinois, or 212, are single-school districts.
Another 152 school district offices serve just two schools. This kind of mismanagement presents plenty of opportunities to merge district supervision and reduce administrative costs without interfering with the schools’ daily operations.