2016 AS&U 100: The 200 Largest U.S. School Districts, 2014-15

Sept. 23, 2016
More than 11 million students in 2014-15 were enrolled in the nation’s 100 largest districts.

In 1989-90, the Frisco Independent School District north of Dallas was a tiny system of 1,237 students, and 6,354 public school districts in the nation had more students than Frisco.

Twenty-five years later, enrollment in the burgeoning district had grown more than 40 times larger. With nearly 50,000 students, it was large enough in 2014-15 to crack the list of the 100 largest school districts in the United States.

But the rocketing growth seen in Frisco is a rare occurrence. For the most part, the ranks of the largest districts change little from year to year: 98 of the 100 school systems on the 2015 AS&U 100 also appear in the 2016 list.

A look at large districts across 25 years gives a better perspective on the ebbs and flows of enrollment in school systems and how the numbers reflect growth in different regions of the nation.

Twenty-six districts on the 2014-15 list were not among the 100 largest in 1989-90—11 of those 26 are in Texas, three are in California, and two are in Florida.

In general, the large districts of 2014-15 are larger than those on the 1989-90 list. The 100 largest districts accounted for a little more than 11 million students in 2014-15; in 1989-90, the 100 largest systems had 8.8 million.

Twenty-nine districts had more than 100,000 students in 2014-15, compared with 19 districts in 1989-90; 93 districts had more than 50,000 students in 2014-15; only 64 districts surpassed that number in 1989-90. Thirty-one districts that were among 100 largest in 1989-90 would not have had enough students to make the list in 2014-15.

As has been the case for many years, this year’s AS&U 100 is dominated by the three largest U.S. states—California, Texas and Florida. Texas has 21 districts on the list; Florida has 14, and California has 11.  Even when the list is expanded to the 200 largest districts, those states still dominate: Texas has 42, California has 26, and Florida has 24.

Although large year-to-year changes are rare, one large system—the Shelby County (Tenn.) district—has experienced dramatic enrollment swings in the last few years. In 2012-13, its territory consisted mostly of the suburban areas around Memphis, and its enrollment was 46,552. In 2013-14, the county system merged with the Memphis district, and the student numbers swelled to 149,832.

But several suburban municipalities that opposed merging with Memphis voted to form their own districts, so in 2014-15, enrollment in Shelby County dropped to 116,059, a little larger than the student enrollment in the old Memphis system.

(Note: The enrollment figures for 2014-15 come from data compiled by state departments of education or individual school districts. The 1989-90 numbers come from the U.S. Department of Education.)

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