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The Effect of School Finance Reforms on the Distribution of Spending, Academic Achievement, and Adult Outcomes

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  • C. Kirabo Jackson
  • Rucker Johnson
  • Claudia Persico

Abstract

The school finance reforms (SFRs) that began in the early 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s caused some of the most dramatic changes in the structure of K-12 education spending in U.S. history. We analyze the effects of these reforms on the level and distribution of school district spending, as well as their effects on subsequent educational and economic outcomes. In Part One, using a newly compiled database of school finance reforms and a recently available long panel of annual school district data on per-pupil spending that spans 1967-2010, we present an event-study analysis of the effects of different types of school finance reforms on per-pupil spending in low- and high-income school districts. We find that SFRs have been instrumental in equalizing school spending between low- and high-income districts and many reforms do so by increasing spending for poor districts. While all reforms reduce spending inequality, there are important differences by reform type: adequacy-based court-ordered reforms increase overall school spending, while equity-based court-ordered reforms reduce the variance of spending with little effect on overall levels; reforms that entail high tax prices (the amount of taxes a district must raise to increase spending by one dollar) reduce long-run spending for all districts, and those that entail low tax prices lead to increased spending growth, particularly for low-income districts. In Part Two, we link the spending and reform data to detailed, nationally-representative data on children born between 1955 and 1985 and followed through 2011 (the Panel Study of Income Dynamics) to study the effect of the reform-induced changes in school spending on long-run adult outcomes. These birth cohorts straddle the period in which most of the major school finance reform litigation accelerated, and thus the cohorts were differentially exposed, depending on place and year of birth. We use the timing of the passage of court-mandated reforms as an exogenous shifter of school spending across cohorts within the same district. Event-study and instrumental variable models reveal that a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school for children from poor families leads to about 0.9 more completed years of education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty; we find no effects for children from non-poor families. The magnitudes of these effects are sufficiently large to eliminate between two-thirds and all of the gaps in these adult outcomes between those raised in poor families and those raised in non-poor families. We present several pieces of evidence to support a causal interpretation of the estimates.

Suggested Citation

  • C. Kirabo Jackson & Rucker Johnson & Claudia Persico, 2014. "The Effect of School Finance Reforms on the Distribution of Spending, Academic Achievement, and Adult Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 20118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20118
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. C. Kirabo Jackson, 2012. "Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality: Evidence from 9th Grade Teachers in North Carolina," NBER Working Papers 18624, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    4. Baicker, Katherine & Gordon, Nora, 2006. "The effect of state education finance reform on total local resources," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(8-9), pages 1519-1535, September.
    5. Kunz, Jim & Page, Marianne E. & Solon, Gary, 2003. "Are point-in-time measures of neighborhood characteristics useful proxies for children's long-run neighborhood environment?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 231-237, May.
    6. Rucker C. Johnson, 2011. "Long-run Impacts of School Desegregation & School Quality on Adult Attainments," NBER Working Papers 16664, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jeremy Clark & Susmita Roy Das, 2015. "Evaluating the Returns to Funding Different Measures of Student Disadvantage: Evidence From New Zealand," Working Papers in Economics 15/10, University of Canterbury, Department of Economics and Finance.
    2. C. Kirabo Jackson & Rucker C. Johnson & Claudia Persico, 2016. "The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 131(1), pages 157-218.
    3. Sungoh Kwon, 2017. "Does Public School Spending Raise Intergenerational Mobility?: Evidence from U.S. School Finance Reforms," Working papers 2017-06, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
    4. Marisa Hidalgo Hidalgo & Iñigo Iturbe-Ormaetxe Kortajarene, 2014. "Long-run effects on poverty of public expenditure in education," Working Papers. Serie AD 2014-06, Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Económicas, S.A. (Ivie).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H0 - Public Economics - - General
    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education
    • H71 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • H72 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Budget and Expenditures
    • I0 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General
    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty
    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General

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