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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations

Martin S. Andersen, Emefa Buaka, D. Sunshine Hillygus, Christopher R. Marsicano, Rylie C. Martin.

Temporary college closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic created an exodus of students from college towns just as the decennial census count was getting underway. We use aggregate cellular mobility data to evaluate if this population movement affected the distributional accuracy of the 2020 Census. Based on the outflow of devices in late March 2020, we estimate that counties with a college were undercounted by two percent, likely affecting Congressional apportionment. For college towns, student populations can impact government funding allocations, policy program decisions, and planning for infrastructure, public health, and more. The Census Bureau is allowing governmental entities to request count reviews through June 2023. Colleges should cooperate with state and local government efforts to ensure an accurate count.

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Mark J. Chin, Lena Shi.

In the U.S., state politicians directly influence legislation and budget decisions that can substantially affect public education spending and students. Does the political party of elected officials matter for these outcomes? We use a regression discontinuity design to analyze close house and gubernatorial elections from 1982 to 2016 and find that the impact of Democratic control of state government depends on whether elections occur during a presidential election year. On average, Democratic states spend less per capita on K-12 education. This trend, however, reverses when Democrats secure marginal control during off-cycle elections. Outside of presidential election years, we find increased state expenditures on both K-12 education and higher education. These increases coincided with smaller K-12 class sizes, relatively higher high school diploma rates, and expanded college enrollment. Our results highlight the importance of considering how federal political contexts influence the effects of state-level politics on education finance and outcomes.

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Jeremy Singer, Julie A. Marsh, David Menefee-Libey, Jacob Alonso, Dwuana Bradley, Hanora Tracy.

Purpose: Nearly all schools in the United States closed in spring 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyze traditional public and charter school reopenings for the 2020-21 school year in five urban districts. We provide a rich and theoretically grounded description of how and why educational leaders made reopening decisions in each of our case districts.

Research Methods: We used data from a multiple-case study from March 2020 to July 2021. The research team conducted 56 interviews with school, district, and system-level leaders; triangulated with publicly available data; and also drew on interview data from a subsample of parents and guardians in each of our sites. We analyzed these data through qualitative coding and memo writing, and conducted detailed single- and cross-case analyses.

Findings:  School system leaders in our case sites generally consulted public health authorities, accounted for state-level health and educational guidance, and engaged with and were responsive to the interests of different stakeholders. Districts’ adherence to and strategic uses of public health guidance, as well as a combination of union-district relations and labor market dynamics, influenced reopening. Parents, city and state lawmakers, and local institutional conditions also played a role, helping to explain differences across cases.

Implications: In contrast to the “politics or science” framing that has dominated research and public discourse on school reopening, we show that local pandemic conditions and local political dynamics both mattered and in fact were interrelated. Our findings have some implications for how educational leaders might navigate future crises.

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Melissa Arnold Lyon, Joshua Bleiberg, Beth E. Schueler.

State takeover of school districts—a form of political centralization that shifts decision-making power from locally elected leaders to the state—has increased in recent years, often with the purported goal of improving district financial condition. Takeover has affected millions of students throughout the U.S. since the first takeover in 1988 and is most common in larger districts and communities serving large shares of low-income students and students of color. While previous research finds takeovers do not benefit student academic achievement on average, we investigate whether takeovers achieve their goal of improving financial outcomes. Using an event study approach, we find takeovers from 1990 to 2019 increased annual school spending by roughly $2,000 per pupil after five years, on average, leading to improvements in financial condition. Increased funding came primarily from state sources and funded districts’ legacy costs. However, takeover did not affect spending for districts with majority-Black student populations—which are disproportionately targeted for takeover—adding to a growing literature suggesting that takeover unequally affects majority-Black communities.

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Agustina S. Paglayan, Anja Neundorf, Wooseok Kim.

Challenging the conventional wisdom that the spread of democracy was a leading driver of the expansion of primary schooling, recent studies show that democratization in fact did not lead to an average increase in primary school enrollment rates. One reason for this null effect is that there was already considerable provision of primary education before democratization. Still, it is possible that the spread of democracy did impact other aspects of education systems, such as the content of education and the extent to which teaching jobs are politicized. Studying this possibility cross-nationally has been infeasible due to data limitations. To address this gap, we take advantage of an original dataset covering 160 countries from 1945 to 2021 that contains information about these aspects of education. We document that transitions to democracy tend to be preceded by a decline in the politicization of both education content and teaching jobs. However, soon after democratization occurs, this decline usually halts. Counterfactual estimates suggest that democratization roughly halves the degree to which teacher hiring and firing decisions are politicized, but has a smaller impact on the content of education. The empirical patterns that we uncover have important implications for future research.

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Max R.W. Mathias.

Discussion of the rising price of higher education and associated student debt in America has been a key feature of political discourse in recent memory, with renewed interest sparked by the announcement of the student loan forgiveness plan. Federal student debt has increased by 756% since 1995, and total student debt tripled from 2007 to 2022. Concurrently, state support for public universities fell by 18% from 2000 to 2015. This phenomenon has drawn interest in the literature, with works by Jaquette and Curs (2015), Bound et al. (2016), Deming and Walters (2017), Webber (2017), and Mathias (2022) examining the effect of state disinvestment on higher education pricing and enrollment. This paper uses data from IPEDS to examine Colorado's College Opportunity Fund, which eliminated state appropriations to Colorado universities in 2006. I advance the literature by being the first to employ quasi-experimental methods, using a synthetic control identification strategy to measure the impact of this funding shock on enrollment and tuition revenue recuperation by Colorado universities. I find that Hispanic enrollment increased by 3 percentage points relative to the synthetic counterfactual, and that tuition revenue increased by 42% as a result of the policy. These results are robust to threats to identification, and placebo tests conrm the validity of the design. These findings provide robust evidence of the pitfalls of state disinvestment in higher education, and the consequences for students who are left to foot the bill.

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Eric R. Felix, Denisa Gandara, Sosanya Jones.

We used Critical Discourse Analysis to examine the racial discourse within recent attempts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Specifically, we interrogated congressional markup hearings to understand how members frame student debt and the racialized dynamics embedded within. Our findings highlight three types of discourse: “All Students” Matter, Paternalistic, Race-Evasive, and Explicit Racial Discourse. We offer recommendations for research and policymaking.

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Brian T. Hamel.
Education spending has been shown to increase student achievement and break the cycle of poverty. I argue, however, that local school board members in the U.S. are electorally incentivized to invest resources in some schools and students more than others. Specifically, I argue that school spending can boost vote shares for incumbent school board members, and that school board members will allocate resources strategically, prioritizing schools located in neighborhoods of their district where spending will maximize their vote share. I test this argument using data from a discretionary school modernization program in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and find that board members distribute resources to schools in competitive and moderately supportive neighborhoods while excluding schools in overwhelmingly opposed and supportive areas. The results suggest that local democratic control of school boards can hinder education equality.

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David M. Houston.

Drawing on 16 years of nationally representative survey data from 2007-2022, I demonstrate that partisan gaps—the average differences in public opinion between Democrats and Republicans—have widened on many education issues. The growth of the partisan gaps consistently exceeds what would be expected due to the changing demographic compositions of the parties alone. In most cases, widening partisan gaps are primarily attributable to sorting (the alignment of one’s party affiliation and one’s issue positions) rather than polarization (increasing support for more extreme positions relative to more moderate positions). However, polarization is also increasing on some of the most divisive issues. Among those who are sorting, individuals are overwhelmingly switching their issues positions to align with their party affiliations rather than switching their party affiliations to align with their issue positions.

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Ken Ochieng’ Opalo.

Education is one of the most important public goods provided by modern governments. Yet governments worldwide seldom perform well in the sector. This raises the question: why do governments preside over poor education quality? This article answers this question with evidence from Tanzania. Using data from surveys, administrative reports, and policy documents, it analyzes changing goals of education policy and associated impacts on access and learning over time. The main finding is that learn- ing has not always been the goal of schooling in Tanzania. Furthermore, for decades the government rationed access to both primary and secondary schooling for ideological reasons. These past policy choices partially explain contemporary poor outcomes in education. This article increase our understanding of the politics of education in low-income states. It also provides a corrective against the common assumption that governments always seek to maximize the provision of public goods and services for political gain.

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