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Local Government Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

What do local governments do? Find out in this lesson, where we also talk about what local governments look like, how they raise money, and how they work together with other levels of government.

What Is Local Government?

Have you ever been waiting at the bus stop and noticed the sanitation workers cleaning up your neighborhood and collecting garbage? These people work for the local government! Your teachers at school, the cafeteria workers, and the people who create the public park you play in before dinner--these are all local government workers!

Local government is the smallest form of the three types of government. The federal government oversees the entire country, and the state government oversees an entire state. Meanwhile, the local governments oversee the smaller areas that make up a state, like cities and towns. Mayors, city council members, and county commissioners, among other officials, help lead local governments. These are usually elected positions.

The Structure of Local Governments

There are two basic levels of local government:

  • A county government oversees the larger county.
  • A municipal government oversees a smaller municipality (usually located within a county), such as a town, city or village.

Let's take a look at an example. Chicago is city with its own city government, and this city is located within Cook County, which has a county government.

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Local governments can also be divided up into special districts that have specific purposes. One common example is the school district. A school district often covers several cities and towns, and it acts like its own municipality with appointed and elected officials.

Federalism in the United States

The United States is a federalist system of government, where powers are divided between the federal (national) and state governments. The state gives power and sets limitations for local governments. While each level of government (state, local, and federal) has its own set of responsibilities, they also carry out many of the same jobs.

In some cases, the local government has to carry out a federal or state law or mandate. For instance, the federal government passed the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act saying that school lunches and food sold in school had to be healthy. The federal government set the rule, but local school districts look over the ingredients in the food served, order fruits and vegetables, set the menu, and make sure schools are following the law.

The president signing into law the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is enforced by local governments.
Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act

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