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Finance

William A. Fischel.

This article reviews the development of my thesis that the California Supreme Court's Serrano decisions, which began in 1971 and sought to disconnect district school spending with local property taxes, led to the fiscal conditions that caused California voters to embrace Proposition 13 in 1978, which radically undermined the local property tax system. I submit that my thesis is most likely true because of Proposition 13’s durability and the absence of alternative explanations that account for its longstanding power over California politics. The article then circles back to John Serrano himself. I want to respectfully suggest that John’s views about the role of public education and my own have more in common than might be suspected. At the very least I want to correct the impression that John supported Proposition 13, which was suggested by the title of my last full article about this topic.

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Virginia S. Lovison, Cecilia H. Mo.

While investing in the teacher workforce is central to improving schools, school resources are notoriously limited, forcing school leaders to make difficult decisions on how to prioritize funds. This paper examines a critical input to resource allocation decisions: teacher preferences. Using an original, online discrete choice survey experiment with a national sample of 1,030 U.S. teachers, we estimate how much teachers value different features of a hypothetical teaching job. The findings show that (a) teachers value access to special education specialists, counselors, and nurses more than a 10% salary increase or 3-student reduction in class size, (b) investments in school counselors and nurses are strikingly cost-effective, as the value teachers alone place on each of these support roles far exceeds the per teacher cost of funding these positions, and (c) teachers who are also parents treat a 10% salary increase and a child care subsidy of similar value as near perfect substitutes. These novel estimates of teachers’ willingness to pay for student-based support professionals challenge the idea that inadequate compensation lies at the root of teacher workforce challenges and illustrate that reforms that exclusively focus on salary as a lever for influencing teacher mobility (e.g. transfer incentives) may be poorly aligned to teachers’ preferences.

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Michel Grosz, Ross T. Milton.

We study a California policy that loosened constraints on some local governments by lowering the share of votes required to pass school capital improvement bond referendums. We show that the policy change yielded larger tax proposals that received less support from voters, yet led to a doubling of approved spending. We show that this effect is concentrated in more racially diverse jurisdictions and that loosening these electoral constraints completely closed the gap in funding between these areas. We develop an agenda-setter model of the interaction between local government officials and voters to illustrate potential mechanisms behind these results.

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Riley Acton.

In the competitive U.S. higher education market, institutions differentiate themselves to attract both students and tuition dollars. One understudied example of this differentiation is the increasing trend of "colleges" becoming "universities" by changing their names. Leveraging variation in the timing of such conversions in an event study framework, I show that becoming a university increases enrollments at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, which leads to an increase in degree production and total revenues. I further find that these effects are largest when institutions are the first in their market to convert to a university and can lead to negative spillover effects on non-converting colleges.

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J. Cameron Anglum, Kenneth A. Shores, Matthew P. Steinberg.

In 2009, the federal government passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to combat the effects of the Great Recession and state revenue shortfalls, directing over $97 billion to school districts. In this chapter, we draw lessons from this distribution of fiscal stimulus funding to inform future federal intervention in school finance during periods of economic downturn. We find that district spending declined by $945 per pupil per year following the Great Recession, particularly after a stimulus funding cliff when ARRA funding declined. Spending declines varied more within than across states, while stimulus funding was directed to districts through pre-Recession state funding formulae which varied in their relative progressivity. Spending losses were greater in districts serving fewer shares of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch or special education services, in districts with higher-achieving students, and in districts with greater levels of spending prior to the Great Recession; declines were unassociated with district’s racial/ethnic composition, the share of English language learners, or a district’s reliance on state aid. We conclude by identifying different stimulus policy targets and with recommendations regarding the magnitude and distribution of future federal fiscal stimulus funding, lessons relevant to the COVID-19-induced recession and beyond.

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Dillon Fuchsman, Josh B. McGee, Gema Zamarro.

Adequately saving for retirement requires both planning and knowledge about available retirement savings options. Teachers participate in a complex set of different plan designs and benefit tiers, and many do not participate in Social Security. While teachers represent a large part of the public workforce, relatively little is known regarding their knowledge about and preparation for retirement. We administered a survey to a nationally representative sample of teachers through RAND’s American Teacher Panel and asked teachers about their retirement planning and their employer-sponsored retirement plans. We find that while most teachers are taking steps to prepare for retirement, many teachers lack the basic retirement knowledge necessary to plan effectively. Teachers struggled to identify their plan type, how much they are contributing to their plans, retirement eligibility ages, and who contributes to Social Security. These results suggest that teacher retirement reform may not be disruptive for teachers and that better, simpler, and clearer information about teacher retirement plans would be beneficial.

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Dylan Lukes, Christopher Cleveland.
Between 1935-1940 the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) assigned A (minimal risk) to D (hazardous) grades to neighborhoods that reflected their lending risk from previously issued loans and visualized these grades on color-coded maps, which arguably influenced banks and other mortgage lenders to provide or deny home loans within residential neighborhoods. In this study, we leverage a spatial analysis of 144 HOLC-graded core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) to understand how HOLC maps relate to current patterns of school and district funding, school racial diversity, and school performance. We find that schools and districts located today in historically redlined D neighborhoods have less district per-pupil total revenues, larger shares of Black and non-White student bodies, less diverse student populations, and worse average test scores relative to those located in A, B, and C neighborhoods. Conversely, at the school level, we find that per-pupil total expenditures are better for those schools operating in previously redlined D neighborhoods. Consequently, these schools also have the largest shares of low-income students. Our nationwide results are, on the whole, consistent by region and after controlling for CBSA. Finally, we document a persistence in these patterns across time, with overall positive time trends regardless of HOLC security rating but widening gaps between D vs. A, B, and C outcomes. These findings suggest that education policymakers need to consider the historical implications of redlining and past neighborhood inequality on neighborhoods today when designing modern interventions focused on improving the life outcomes of students of color and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

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Matthew P. Steinberg, Haisheng Yang.

Principals shape the academic setting of schools. Yet, there is limited evidence on whether principal professional development improves schooling outcomes. Beginning in 2008-09, Pennsylvania’s Inspired Leadership (PIL) induction program required that newly hired principals complete targeted in-service professional development tied to newly established state leadership standards within five years of employment. Using panel data on all Pennsylvania students, teachers, and principals, we leverage variation in the timing of PIL induction across principal-school cells and employ difference-in-differences and event study strategies to estimate the impact of PIL induction on teacher and student outcomes. We find that PIL induction increased student math achievement through improvements in teacher effectiveness, and that the effects of PIL induction on teacher effectiveness were concentrated among the most economically disadvantaged and urban schools in Pennsylvania. Principal professional development had the greatest impact on teacher effectiveness when principals completed PIL induction during their first two years in the principalship. We also find evidence that teacher turnover declined in the years following the completion of PIL induction. We discuss the implications of our findings for principal induction efforts.

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C. Kirabo Jackson, Claire Mackevicius.

We examine all known "credibly causal" studies to explore the distribution of the causal effects of public K-12 school spending on student outcomes in the United States. For each of the 31 included studies, we compute the same marginal spending effect parameter estimate. Precision-weighted method of moments estimates indicate that, on average, a $1000 increase in per-pupil public school spending (for four years) increases test scores by 0.0352 standard deviations, high school graduation by 1.92 percentage points, and college-going by 2.65 percentage points. These pooled averages are significant at the 0.0001 level. When benchmarked against other interventions, test score impacts are smaller than those on educational attainment -- suggesting that test-score impacts understate the value of school spending. 

The benefits to marginal capital spending increases take about five years to materialize, and are about half as large as (and less consistently positive than) those of non-capital-specific spending increases. The marginal spending impacts for all spending types are less pronounced for economically advantaged populations -- though not statistically significantly so. Consistent with a cumulative effect, the educational attainment impacts are larger with more years of exposure to the spending increase.  Average impacts are similar across a wide range of baseline spending levels and geographic characteristics -- providing little evidence of diminishing marginal returns at current spending levels.

To assuage concerns that pooled averages aggregate selection or confounding biases across studies, we use a meta-regression-based method that tests for, and removes, certain biases in the reported effects. This approach is straightforward and can remove biases in meta-analyses where the parameter of interest is a ratio, slope, or elasticity. We fail to reject that the meta-analytic averages are unbiased. Moreover, policies that generate larger increases in per-pupil spending tend to generate larger improvements in outcomes, in line with the pooled average. 

To speak to generalizability, we estimate the variability across studies attributable to effect heterogeneity (as opposed to sampling variability). This heterogeneity explains between 76 and 88 percent of the variation across studies. Estimates of heterogeneity allow us to provide a range of likely policy impacts. Our estimates suggest that a policy that increases per-pupil spending for four years will improve test scores and/or educational attainment over 90 percent of the time. We find evidence of small possible publication bias among very imprecise studies, but show that any effects on our precision-weighted estimates are minimal.

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Oded Gurantz, Ryan Sakoda, Shayak Sarkar.

This paper examines how financial aid reform based on postsecondary institutional performance impacts student choice. Federal and state regulations often reflect concerns about the private, for-profit sector's poor employment outcomes and high loan defaults, despite the sector's possible theoretical advantages. We use student level data to examine how eliminating public subsidies to attend low-performing for-profit institutions impacts students' college enrollment and completion behavior. Beginning in 2011, California tightened eligibility standards for their state aid program, effectively eliminating most for-profit eligibility. Linking data on aid application to administrative payment and postsecondary enrollment records, this paper utilizes a differences-in-differences strategy to investigate students' enrollment and degree completion responses to changes in subsidies. We find that restricting the use of the Cal Grant at for-profit institutions resulted in significant state savings but led to relatively small changes in students' postsecondary trajectories. For older, non-traditional students we find no impact on enrollment or degree completion outcomes. Similarly, for high school graduates, we find that for-profit enrollment remains strong. Unlike the older, non-traditional students, however, there is some evidence of declines in for-profit degree completion and increased enrollment at community colleges among the high school graduates, but these results are fairly small and sensitive to empirical specification. Overall, our results suggest that both traditional and non-traditional students have relatively inelastic preferences for for-profit colleges under aid-restricting policies.

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