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
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.