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Bradley R. Curs, Casandra E. Harper, Sangmin Park.

This quasi-experimental study examined the effectiveness of a one-time emergency financial relief program among Pell Grant eligible undergraduate students in Spring 2015 pursuing their first bachelor’s degree across academic and financial outcomes. The academic outcomes included retention to the next semester, degree completion, attempted credit hours, and grade point average. The financial outcome captured whether students received a stop registration hold due to an unpaid financial balance in the semester after receiving the emergency relief. The results reveal that financial relief applied to low-income students’ accounts can improve their retention and graduation rates. The financial relief was most effective among first-generation college students, resulting in a complete elimination of the retention gap for first-generation students. The emergency relief did not improve GPA or substantially change the number of credits earned. A concerning finding was that students receiving this emergency support were more likely to receive a financial hold in a subsequent semester and that effect was stronger among students of color (Black/African American, Hispanic/Latine, Asian, Multiracial, American Indian/Alaska Native), males, and first-generation college students.

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David B. Monaghan, Crystal Almanzar, Madison Laughman, Allyson Ritchie.

Promise programs are discussed as a policy movement that began with the 2005 launch of the Kalamazoo Promise. Since then, programs bearing the Promise label or sharing similar features have spread across the higher educational landscape, appearing in most states and across postsecondary sectors. Simultaneously, scholarly literature discussing these programs has burgeoned. And yet, scholars and others are unable to formulate a clear conception of what a Promise program is and what if anything sets such a program apart from other scholarship programs (e.g., state need-based grants). In this paper, we examine how scholars have discussed these programs over time. We begin with the initial theorization of the Kalamazoo Promise as a case and observe its use as a prototype in the formulation of a general model once “Promise program” was established as a category. We follow how the spread and transformation of “Promise programs” was reflected in repeated partial reconceptualization. We find three competing conceptual models emerging in sequence: 1) a thick, place-based causal model derived as a generalization of the Kalamazoo Promise, 2) a thin empirical model crafted in the aftermath of the launch of the Tennessee Promise, and 3) a partially acknowledged minimal or symbolic model advanced haltingly in response to critiques of last-dollar community college state programs. Scholarly conceptualization is largely reactive to empirical program diffusion and transformation, though scholarly idealization may have played a role in this diffusion itself.

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Carleton H. Brown, David S. Knight.

This manuscript explores the argument for lower student-to-school counselor ratios in U.S. public education. Drawing upon a comprehensive historical review and existing research, we establish the integral role of school counselors and the notable benefits of reduced student-tocounselor ratios. Our analysis of national data exposes marked disparities across states and districts, with the most underfunded often serving higher percentages of low-income students and students of color. This situation raises significant ethical concerns, prompting a call for conscientious policy reform and targeted investment. Informed by emerging best practices, we propose recommendations for enhancing counselor staffing and ultimately student outcomes. This ethical argument underscores the need for proactive actions and provides a basis for future research to further delineate the impact of school counselor ratios on educational equity and student success.

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Gema Zamarro, Andrew Camp, Josh McGee, Taylor Wilson, Miranda Vernon.

Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is a pressing policy concern. Increasing teacher salaries and creating more attractive compensation packages are often proposed as a potential solution. Signed into law in March 2023, the LEARNS Act increased Arkansas's minimum teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000, guaranteed all teachers a minimum raise of $2,000, and added flexibility allowing school districts to deviate from seniority-based traditional salary schedules. To study school districts’ adjustments to the new legislation, we collected information about districts' teacher compensation policies one year before and the first year of implementation. We also integrated this data with teachers' administrative records to study patterns of teacher retention and mobility. Our results reveal a more equitable distribution of starting teacher salaries across districts, with minimal variation. The LEARNS Act notably increased funding for rural and high-poverty districts, mitigating the negative association between starting salaries and district poverty rates. However, the initial effects on teacher retention and mobility were modest. While some positive trends emerged, such as reduced probabilities of teachers transitioning to non-instructional roles and increased new teacher placement in geographic areas of shortage, broader impacts on retention and mobility were limited in the first year of implementation.

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Shelby M. McNeill, Christopher A. Candelaria.

This study investigates how individual states raise revenue to pay for elementary-secondary education spending following school finance reforms (SFRs). We identify states that increased and sustained education expenditures after reform, search for legislative statutes that appropriated more education spending, and assess how policymakers funded the SFRs. Our results show that state legislatures increase investments in education by increasing tax revenue streams, such as sales and excise taxes, and by taking over property tax collections. Considering these results, we discuss that increased state investment in education should be accompanied by a policy mechanism to distribute state aid equitably to districts. Moreover, policymakers should consider local voters’ preferences when implementing SFR policies, as tax increases may reduce local fiscal effort for education.

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Michael Bates, Andrew C. Johnston.

Why do employers offer pensions? We empirically explore two theoretical rationales, namely that pensions may improve worker effort and worker selection. We examine these hypotheses using administrative measures on effort and output in public schools around the pension-eligibility notch. When workers cross the notch their effective compensation falls significantly, but we observe no reduction in worker effort and output. This implies that pension payments do not increase effort. As for selection, we find that pensions retain low-value-added and high-value-added workers at the same rate, suggesting pensions have little or no influence on selection.

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Maxwell J. Cook, Cory Koedel, Michael Reda.

We estimate the education and earnings returns to enrolling in technical two-year degree programs at community colleges in Missouri. A unique feature of the Missouri context is the presence of a highly regarded, nationally ranked technical college: State Technical College of Missouri (State Tech). We find that enrolling in a technical program in Missouri increases the likelihood of associate degree attainment and post-enrollment earnings, but that the positive effects statewide are driven largely by students who attend State Tech. These findings demonstrate the potential for a high-performing community college to change students’ education and labor market trajectories. At the same time, they exemplify the potential for substantial institutional heterogeneity in the returns to postsecondary education.

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Jack Mountjoy.

This paper studies the causal impacts of public universities on the outcomes of their marginally admitted students. I use administrative admission records spanning all 35 public universities in Texas, which collectively enroll 10 percent of American public university students, to systematically identify and employ decentralized cutoffs in SAT/ACT scores that generate discontinuities in admission and enrollment. The typical marginally admitted student completes an additional year of education in the four-year sector, is 12 percentage points more likely to earn a bachelor's degree, and eventually earns 5-10 percent more than their marginally rejected but otherwise identical counterpart. Marginally admitted students pay no additional tuition costs thanks to offsetting grant aid; cost-benefit calculations show internal rates of return of 19-23 percent for the marginal students themselves, 10-12 percent for society (which must pay for the additional education), and 3-4 percent for the government budget. Finally, I develop a method to disentangle separate effects for students on the extensive margin of the four-year sector versus those who would fall back to another four-year school if rejected. Substantially larger extensive margin effects drive the results.

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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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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.

Recent work highlights the challenge of scaling evidence-based educational programs. We report on a randomized controlled trial of a financial incentive program designed to increase the efficacy of a national remote college advising initiative for high-achieving students. We find substantial positive effects of the program on student engagement with college advisors; applications to well-matched colleges and universities; and review of financial aid awards. Yet treated students were no more likely to enroll at higher-quality institutions. Student survey responses suggest that institutional admissions and affordability barriers, alongside student preferences to attend institutions closer to home, explain the lack of enrollment effects.

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