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The Causes of Political Integration: An Application to School Districts

  • Nora Gordon
  • Brian Knight

This paper examines the forces behind political integration through the lens of school district consolidations, which reduced the number of school districts in the United States from around 130,000 in 1930 to under 15,000 at present. Despite this large observed decline, many districts resisted consolidation before ultimately merging and others never merged, choosing to remain at enrollment levels that nearly any education cost function would deem inefficiently small. Why do some districts voluntarily integrate while others remain small, and how do those districts that do merge choose with which of their neighbors to do so? In addressing these questions, we empirically examine the role of potential economies and diseconomies of scale, heterogeneity between merger partners, and the role of state governments. We first develop a simulation-based estimator that is rooted in the economics of matching and thus accounts for three important features of typical merger protocol: two-sided decision making, multiple potential partners, and spatial interdependence. We then apply this methodology to a wave of school district mergers in the state of Iowa during the 1990s. Our results highlight the importance of economies of scale, diseconomies of scale, state financial incentives for consolidation, and a variety of heterogeneity measures.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12047.

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Date of creation: Feb 2006
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Publication status: published as Nora Gordon and Brian Knight. “A Spatial Merger Estimator with an Application to School District Consolidation”, Journal of Public Economics 93(5-6), 752-765, 2009.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12047
Note: ED PE
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  1. Torsten Persson & Guido Tabellini, 1997. "Political Economics and Macroeconomic Policy," NBER Working Papers 6329, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Poirier, Dale J., 1980. "Partial observability in bivariate probit models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 209-217, February.
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  4. Alberto Alesina & Reza Baqir & Caroline Hoxby, 2000. "Political Jurisdictions in Heterogeneous Communities," NBER Working Papers 7859, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Chung, Kim-Sau, 2000. "On the Existence of Stable Roommate Matchings," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 206-230, November.
  6. David M. Brasington, 2003. "Size and School District Consolidation: Do Opposites Attract?," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 70(280), pages 673-690, November.
  7. Wacziarg, Romain & Spolaore, Enrico & Alesina, Alberto, 2000. "Economic Integration and Political Disintegration," Scholarly Articles 4553029, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  8. Alvaro Rodrigues-Neto, Jose, 2007. "Representing roommates' preferences with symmetric utilities," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 135(1), pages 545-550, July.
  9. Becker, Gary S, 1973. "A Theory of Marriage: Part I," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(4), pages 813-46, July-Aug..
  10. Brasington, David M., 1999. "Joint provision of public goods: the consolidation of school districts," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 73(3), pages 373-393, September.
  11. Bolton, Patrick & Roland, Gerard, 1997. "The Breakup of Nations: A Political Economy Analysis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1057-90, November.
  12. David M. Brasington, 2003. "Snobbery, Racism, or Mutual Distaste: What Promotes and Hinders Cooperation in Local Public-Good Provision?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 874-883, November.
  13. Filer, John E & Kenny, Lawrence W, 1980. "Voter Reaction to City-County Consolidation Referenda," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(1), pages 179-90, April.
  14. Andrews, Matthew & Duncombe, William & Yinger, John, 2002. "Revisiting economies of size in American education: are we any closer to a consensus?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 245-262, June.
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