NCES Blog

National Center for Education Statistics

NCES Provides New Data Table on School District Structures

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has released a new data table (Excel) on local education agencies (LEAs)1 that serve multiple counties. This new data table can help researchers understand how many LEAs exist and break down enrollment by LEA and county.

Variation in School District Structures

The organizing structures for LEAs vary across the United States. In many areas of the country, LEAs share boundaries with counties or cities. In other areas, there are multiple LEAs within a single county. LEAs also can span multiple counties.

The organizing structures for LEAs or school districts reflect the policies and practices of local and state governments and historical trends across many states. For example, there was a large consolidation in LEAs in the last century as the number of regular school districts decreased from 117,100 in 1939–40 to fewer than 14,900 in 2000–01. In contrast to these declines, the numbers of charter schools and charter school agencies operating outside of regular school district and county frameworks have increased over the past 2 decades.2

Impact of Structural Differences in School Districts

These structural differences can make it challenging for researchers to estimate student enrollment by county and drill down into other data. This is important because the structure of LEAs and their relationships to county boundaries can impact the capability of researchers and policy analysts to align existing county and district data in ways that could better inform education policies.3 In addition, these structures can affect the designs of new surveys and research activities. For example, research or data collections on career and technical education (CTE) activities at the district level would need to accommodate structural differences in where CTE activities are typically provided—that is, in general education districts (as is the case in most states) or through separate CTE-focused LEAs.

New Data Table on LEAs Serving Multiple Counties

NCES has taken valuable steps to increase the amount of information available to the research community about funding crossing district lines. In fiscal year 2018, a data item was added to the School District Finance Survey (F-33) that includes current expenditures made by regional education service agencies (RESAs) and other specialized service agencies (e.g., supervisory unions) that benefit the reporting LEA.4

Our recently released data table (Excel)—which shows the prevalence and enrollment size of LEAs that serve multiple counties—will facilitate a better understanding of how RESA expenditures are included in the district-level total current expenditures and current expenditure per pupil amounts displayed in the annual Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts finance tables.

Understanding the New Data Table

The data table uses data from the Common Core of Data (CCD) and Demographic and Geographic Estimates (EDGE) to provide county and student enrollment information on each LEA in the United States (i.e., in the 50 states and the District of Columbia) with a separate row for each county in which the agency has a school presence. The table includes all LEA types, such as regular school districts, independent charter school districts, supervisory union administrative centers, service agencies, state agencies, federal agencies, specialized public school districts, and other types of agencies.

LEA presence within a county is determined by whether it had at least one operating school in the county. School presence within a county is determined by whether there is at least one operating school in the county identified in the CCD school-level membership file. For example, an LEA that is coterminous with a county has one record (row) in the listing. A charter school LEA that serves a region of a state and has a presence in five counties has five records. LEA administrative units, which do not operate schools, are listed in the county in which the agency is located.

In the 2021–22_LEA_List tab, column D shows the “multicnty” (i.e., multicounty) variable. LEAs are assigned one of the following codes:

1 = School district (LEA) is in single county and has reported enrollment.

2 = School district (LEA) is in more than one county and has reported enrollment.

8 = School district (LEA) reports no schools and no enrollment, and the county reflects county location of the administrative unit. 

9 = School district (LEA) reports schools but no enrollment, and the county reflects county location of the schools.

In the Values tab, the “Distribution of local education agencies, by enrollment and school status: 2021–22” table shows the frequency of each of the codes (1, 2, 8, and 9) (i.e., the number of records that are marked with each of the codes in the 2021–22_LEA_List tab):

  • 17,073 LEAs had schools in only one county.
  • 1,962 LEAs had schools located in more than one county and reported enrollment for these schools.
  • 1,110 LEAs had no schools of their own and were assigned to a single county based on the location of the LEA address. (Typically, supervisory union administrative centers are examples of these LEAs.)
  • 416 LEAs had schools located in one county but did not report enrollment for these schools.

 

By Tom Snyder, AIR


[1] Find the official definition of an LEA.

[4] The annual School District Finance Survey (F-33) is collected by NCES from state education agencies and the District of Columbia. See Documentation for the NCES Common Core of Data School District Finance Survey (F-33) for more information.