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School Spending & Student Outcomes

Head Start Plus Public School Spending Equals Reduced Inequality

Children raised in poorer families typically do less well in education, employment, health, and well-being as adults than children who grow up in wealthier ones. Can investing in early childhood education, followed by increased public school spending, mitigate the impact of growing up in lower socioeconomic households? In the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, IPR labor and education economist Kirabo Jackson and his co-author, Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, compare the adult outcomes of children who were exposed, at different points across their childhoods, to changes in Head Start spending and changes in public K–12 school spending brought about by school finance reforms. For poor children, they discover that increases in spending for Head Start and for public K–12 schools each increased educational attainment and earnings and reduced the likelihood of both poverty and incarceration as adults. Benefits were complementary as well: Head Start spending benefits were larger when followed by access to better-funded public K–12 schools, and the increases in K–12 spending were more effective for poor children who were exposed to higher levels of Head Start spending during their preschool years. The researchers suggest that when early education investments are sustained, they may break the cycle of poverty. Jackson is the Abraham Harris Professor of Education and Social Policy.

School Finance and Student Success

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IPR labor and education economist Kirabo Jackson has discovered that investment in Head Start, followed by sustained educational investments over time, can help to break the cycle of poverty.

Finance reforms are key for promoting equal educational opportunity, according to IPR Director and economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and fellow researchers Julien Lafortune and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California, Berkeley. In research supported by the Spencer Foundation and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, the authors examine the impact of “adequacy” school finance reforms in the 1990s that raised funding levels of poorer school districts to guarantee equal access to an “adequate education.” These reforms led to sharp and sustained increases in spending in low-income school districts and sometimes resulted in higher spending in these poorer school districts than in higher-income ones. Using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the “nation’s report card,” for 1990–2011, the researchers determine that school finance reforms reduced the test-score gap between low- and high-income districts and that the implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large. They caution, however, that school finance reforms are a rather blunt instrument in improving education for lower-income children since most do not live in a low-income school district. The research was published in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. Schanzenbach is Margaret Walker Alexander Professor.

Effects of Increasing Private School Choice Vouchers on Public School Students

School choice programs, which use public funds to give students private school options for their education, are on the rise across the nation. But what does this mean for students attending  district public schools? In a working paper, IPR education economist David Figlio and his co-authors looked at how expanding private-school voucher programming in Florida impacted the students remaining in public schools. Using school and birth records provided by the Florida Departments of Education and Health, Figlio and his co-authors studied data from roughly 1.2 million students in grades 3–8 from 2002–17, a period during which voucher participation increased nearly seven-fold. While most studies on school choice focus on academic performance alone, Figlio and his co-authors looked at both academic and behavioral changes through math and reading scores, attendance, and suspensions. They found that as the number of students using vouchers grew, test scores for students in public schools started to rise, and beginning in 2006 absence and suspension rates began to decline. These changes were modest: a 10% increase in the number of students using vouchers was estimated to increase test scores by 0.3 to 0.7% of a standard deviation, and reduce behavioral problems by 0.6 to 0.8%. These effects were most pronounced for low-income students, according to the study. Figlio and his co-authors suggested these changes were most likely the result of competitive pressures placed on public schools by the voucher-supported private schools, although they noted that decreased class size and increased resources or attention from teachers might also be factors. Figlio is disabilities. Figlio is the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and Dean of the School of Education and Social Policy.