We use close tax elections to estimate the impact of school district funding increases on operational spending and education outcomes. The analysis indicates that districts where tax levies passed spent 3-5 percent more per pupil annually through 6-8 years after the election. This spending came in the form of higher salaries per employee—as opposed to more teachers or staff—and corresponds to positive achievement effects in districts with a high proportion of impoverished students. Specifically, among districts above the sample median in the proportion of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the results imply that spending an extra $700 per pupil annually for 6-8 years leads to achievement gains of approximately 0.06-0.08 standard deviations. We find no achievement effects in districts with relatively advantaged students, and there are no attainment effects regardless of district demographics.
Governments around the world have privatized public services in the name of efficiency and citizen empowerment, but some argue that privatization could also affect citizen participation in democratic governance. We explore this possibility by estimating the impact of charter schools (which are publicly funded but privately operated) on school district elections. The analysis indicates that the enrollment of district students in charter schools reduced the number of votes cast in district school board contests and, correspondingly, reduced turnout in the odd-year elections in which those contests are held. This impact is concentrated in districts that serve low-achieving, impoverished, and minority students, leading to a modest decline in the share of voters in those districts who are black and who have children. There is little evidence that charter school expansion affected the outcomes of school board elections or turnout in other elections