The factors that influenced school districts’ decisions to offer virtual, hybrid, or in-person instruction during the 2020-21 school year—the first full school year after the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic—have been the focus of a large body of research in recent years. Some of this research examines the influence of school spending, among other factors; however, these studies do not consider spending in relation to cost, “cost” being the amount needed for a school district to achieve a given outcome. This paper uses a measure of adequacy, which is the amount of spending under or over estimated cost, to determine whether spending correlates with the amount of time a school district offered virtual instruction. We find spending adequacy significantly and substantially predicts time spent in virtual instruction: for every $1,000 positive change in adequacy (closing a gap and/or adding to a surplus), the time spent in virtual schooling decreases 0.6%. A one standard deviation positive change in adequacy, therefore, results in 7.5 fewer days of virtual instruction. While our findings are descriptive, they do require future researchers to consider school spending adequacy, as much as any other factor, as a predictor of pandemic instructional models.
This paper contributes to our understanding of American education politics by exploring when and why states redistribute K-12 education dollars to poorer schools. It does so by examining three explanations for intra-state changes in progressivity: court-ordered finance reforms, political trends, and demographic changes. Using state-level data from 1995-2016, we find mixed evidence that progressivity increased following a court-ordered school finance overhaul. Rather, we show that changes in progressivity were most consistently tied to changes in student demography: as students became poorer, or more racially diverse, lawmakers created less progressive finance systems. The paper concludes by discussing what these findings mean for advocates seeking to protect and advance gains in education spending progressivity.