Abstract: Three factors help to explain why school enrollments in the Northern United States were higher than those in the South and in most of Europe by 1850. One was affordability: the northern schools had lower direct costs relative to income. The second was the greater autonomy of local governments. The third was the greater diffusion of voting power among the citizenry in much of the North, especially in rural communities. The distribution of local political voice appears to be a robust predictor of tax support and enrollments, both within and between regions. Extra local voice raised tax support without crowding out private support for education.