Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2013


Great Plains Research 23.2 (Fall2013), pp. 115-l26.


Copyright © 2013 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


This essay explains why school consolidation issues are especially difficult in rural America. Consolidation is most appropriate when adjacent districts have similar preferences for taxation and spending on schools. In that case, economies of scale can be reaped without interfering much with resident preferences on taxes and school quality. In urban areas residents signal these preferences by moving into (or out of) school districts that match their preferences, a process known as Tiebout sorting. As a result, school consolidation decisions can be based on good information about resident preferences. The basic claim of this essay is that Tiebout sorting works much less well in rural areas for a variety of reasons. This means that consolidation decisions are based on thinner information; consequently, school consolidation is more contentious and political in rural America.