School Geography: Why US Census (TIGER) School District Boundaries Are Not Good Enough

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In my last School Geography series blog post, I mentioned that the US Census (via TIGER) provide nationwide school district boundaries periodically.  I also talked about some of the data currency issues related to using TIGER as a basis for analysis, decision-making and web map display.  In this post, I’ll talk a little more about the school district boundaries data that comes out of the US Census.

The Congress requires the Census Bureau to create special tabulations of decennial census by school district boundaries to support calculations for such allocations as Title I funding.  Every two years, the Census conducts a review of school districts and collects paper and sometimes digital map data from designated state school district mapping coordinators.  The TIGER school districts were last updated with the release of TIGER 2008 and contain boundaries submitted during the 2007-2008 School District Review Program (SDRP).  As a result, the TIGER school district data may now be as much as three years old and the next file will not be available until November 2010, long after the 2010-11 school year begins.

With demographic shifts, financial issues, and failing schools, the rate of change (events like district mergers and splits) in school district boundaries is on the rise.  In the last 30 days alone, there have been stories on consolidations (or potential consolidations) in 9 states (PA, IA, IL, VT, MS, AR, KS, WI, and NJ).

For Maponics School Boundaries TM, we source school district boundaries and school attendance boundaries directly from contacts at the local level, rather than at the state level.  And we review and update the entire set of school geography (including school district, school attendance zones and school profiles) for every locally-sourced area every year.  This ensures that we reflect all of the latest changes every year and that our customers can count on the fact that they have the latest information available.

In the spirit of full disclosure, we base our nationwide school district boundaries on TIGER data but continually enhance them with locally sourced data and add school attendance zones--something that TIGER does not include at all.