Do Schools in Rural and Nonrural Districts Allocate Resources Differently? An Analysis of Spending and Staffing Patterns in the West Region States

Primary Researchers: Jesse Levin, Karen Manship, Jay Chambers, Jerry Johnson, Charles Blankenship

Publication Date: January 2011


This study examined differences in resource allocation between rural and nonrural districts and the relationship between resource allocation and specific district characteristics associated with degree of rurality. 

Study Overview

Rural communities face several challenges in providing educational services that suburban and urban areas do not, which are thought to be related to costs. These cost factors include small scale of operation, higher levels of student need, and difficulty hiring qualified and specialized staff. This report presents the first detailed comparison of resource allocation patterns between rural and nonrural districts in the West Region (AZ, CA, NV, UT), including an analysis of the relationship between resource allocation (per student expenditures overall and by category, staffing ratios, and overhead ratios) and characteristics associated with rurality.

Research Questions

The three research questions addressed by this study are:

  • How do factors thought to be related to education costs—such as regional characteristics (district enrollment, student population density, and proximity to urban areas); student needs (incidence of poverty, English language learner students, and special education students); and labor costs—differ between school districts in rural and nonrural locale categories?
  • How do measures of K-12 education resource allocation—including total per student spending, staffing ratios, and overhead ratios of district- to school-level spending—differ between school districts in rural and nonrural locale categories?
  • How do regional characteristics, student needs, and geographic differences in labor costs relate to patterns of K-12 education spending and staffing in school districts?

Key Findings

The main findings of the report include the following:

  • Rural and nonrural locales differed in terms of enrollment, student population density, and average drive time to the nearest urban area. Districts in rural-remote and rural-distant locales had substantially lower enrollments and student population densities than did districts in other locale subcategories.
  • Districts in rural locales spent more per student, hired more staff (especially teachers) per 100 students, and spent more on overhead than did districts in nonrural areas.
  • Regional characteristics (district enrollment, student population density, and drive time) were more strongly related to resource allocation than were other cost factors studied (student needs and geographic differences in labor costs). District enrollment was the most important factor associated with resource allocation. The magnitude of the differences in resource allocation associated with student population density and drive time was small compared with that associated with district enrollment.

Methodology

Two types of analysis were conducted to investigate differences in resource allocation between rural and nonrural districts. The descriptive analysis calculated and compared average resource measures and cost factors across districts in rural and nonrural locales (as categorized by the National Center for Education Statistics). The multivariate regression analysis isolated the relationship between specific district characteristics related to degree of rurality while controlling for the patterns of variation in other factors likely associated with differential patterns of resource allocation (student needs and geographic differences in labor costs).

Regression analysis allowed the multiple relationships between each resource measure and cost factors to be modeled simultaneously. The analysis regressed the dependent variables (such as total per student expenditure) on four types of independent variables: state indicators, measures of student needs (the percentage of students living in poverty, based on free or reduced-price lunch status; students designated as English language learners; or special education students); geographic differences in labor costs (based on the Comparable Wage Index, which measures the differences in the cost of noneducation labor across regional labor markets); and regional characteristics (district enrollment, student population density, and drive time to nearest urban area/cluster). Differences across states in the relationship between the resource measures and the various cost factors were accounted for by including interactions between the state indicators and each independent variable.

  • Published: January 2011
  • Research Type: Issues & Answers
  • Methodologies: Descriptive
  • Contact info:
    Catherine Walcott 415-615-3184


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