Public choice perspectives on public education: Implications of jurisdiction size and institutions in Connecticut school districts

Date of Completion

January 1998


Education, Finance|Economics, General|Political Science, Public Administration




The dissertation consists of three essays that explore primary and secondary public education provision in Connecticut.^ First, the declining number of school districts in the U.S. indicates that consolidation is a popular choice for many localities. There are doubts, however, concerning what the trend means for efficiency of local education providers. In the current environment of "tight state and local budgets," local governments lean toward consolidation because of its advertised lower costs. This practice, however, neglects the additional costs of organization and fiscal illusion. By employing the theory of clubs, the public choice view of optimal jurisdiction size reveals that consolidation may lead to less efficient provision as larger providing communities are less homogeneous, and monitoring is more difficult and costly for individuals. Furthermore, this loss may be indicated through lower education outcomes (student performance) for larger districts.^ In the second essay, the public choice theory of bureaucratic budget maximization argues that the more detached the voters are from the budget determination decision, then the more able the bureaucrats are to capture economic rents. Therefore, in towns with education budgets set through means that are more independent of the voting public (for example, representative bodies that decide school budgets), budgets do significantly exceed the median voter's preferences. Thus, the evidence shows that institutions matter.^ Finally, by examining, in depth, one case of local education provision some holes left by the first two essays are filled in. Specifically, by looking at individual motivations for change and the institutional structure of decision making in this case, we see more clearly that budget maximization is indeed a phenomenon worth considering. In addition, because it is so difficult to control for external differences when using cross-sectional data, this close examination of a single district provides some insights not otherwise possible. For example, as Regional District #19 grew through consolidation, not only changes in expenditure are calculated, but also changes in the scope of services that it provides and student performance. This case study provides added detail in all of these areas and, therefore, reinforces the results of the first two essays. ^