School districts across the country contract with private businesses for all manner of goods and services as a routine part of their education work. No district can afford to be a "Robinson Crusoe" and produce everything it consumes in-house. Nor does it have the expertise. Imagine the employment difficulties schools would have if each were required to produce its own chalk, desks and textbooks. Such a scenario is implausible.
But districts still work to produce a great deal of the services that are not within their core function of educating children. Fixing boilers, serving lunches and driving buses need not be unnecessarily expensive components of school operations. Unfortunately, they often are, and the money spent providing these expensive, ancillary services is money that isn’t getting into the classroom. Saving money is just one reason districts turn to competitive contracting.
This is the fifth time the Center has attempted to survey school districts in the state about their privatization practices and experiences, and the second survey that has achieved a 100 percent response rate. (Achieving a perfect response rate is important because it theoretically reduces the sampling error common in surveys to zero.) The Mackinac Center goes to great lengths to conduct this survey and for several reasons.
First, the data is not centralized in any other location. Obtaining and publishing this information is useful for simply understanding and educating the public about the degree to which school support service privatization occurs. Second, knowledge is power. District officials may not fully appreciate the degree to which sister districts use the management tool of contracting. Indeed, many officials may often be inspired to investigate privatization simply because of reports of its effectiveness in other districts. Last, the trends that emerge from annual or biennial research on school privatization statewide underscore a revealed preference in districts for or against support service contracting. The notion that privatization can’t be successful is belied by its continued expansion.
This policy brief takes the Center’s research a step further than its traditional reporting by breaking out several key responses for more detailed analysis. For example, in the section titled "District Contracting by Pupil Population," the reader will find the tally of district contracts broken out into six pupil population categories.