The results of this survey are based on information provided directly by school district officials from May 13 to Sept. 15, 2014. Officials were contacted in all 545 school districts and asked if they contracted out food, custodial or transportation services. Responses were provided over the telephone, via fax and through email. Occasionally, officials asked that we make a Freedom of Information Act request. Typically, school business managers or superintendents responded to the survey questions.

Districts that began contracting for a new service or stopped contracting for a service (brought the service back in-house) were compared to the previous year in order to verify the change.

Contracting out any routine portion of a noninstructional service to a private sector entity is considered privatization for the purposes of this survey. This does not include all of the different types of contracting that districts engage in, however. Contracting with a county Dial-a-Ride, for instance, would not be included. It would also not count as privatization if a district contracted with another district to provide a service (as some do), unless that district itself used a private contractor. Only districts that are serviced by private companies count as having contracted out.

Employee leasing agencies are included as privatization, as would contracting out for only one bus route. Contracting out for some special education services, however, would not be included.

This survey was performed in 2001, 2003, and annually since 2005. Since 2005, we have received responses from every school district.