The Mackinac Center contacted every public school district in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia and Texas at least once. The first attempt to survey district leaders was typically made by telephone. Districts that asked for or required formal public information requests (such as a Freedom of Information Act request) received these inquiries by email, fax or letter. The survey began in April 2015 and was mostly completed by the end of August 2015.

We asked districts about their provision of food, custodial and transportation services. We counted a service as being contracted out if the district used a private vendor to provide regular services that would otherwise be performed by district employees. For example, a contractor providing employees and food to school cafeterias on a regular basis would be counted as a privatized food service, whereas a private company hired to periodically refinish gym floors would not.

We also counted as a contracted service instances where a district hires a private firm to lease employees to work under district management in food, custodial or transportation services. Cases where districts used a mix of its own employees and those employed by a private firm to provide a service were counted as being privatized. An example of this type of arrangement is a district using a private firm to manage its transportation services, but still directly employing some of the bus drivers.

The list of school districts in each state was obtained from the National Center for Education Statistics in Washington, D.C. The NCES is a bureau within the U.S. Department of Education charged by the United States Congress with acquiring, analyzing and distributing education-related statistics.