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Finance

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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Reuben Hurst, Andrew Simon, Michael Ricks.

To understand the causes and consequences of polarized demand for government expenditure, we conduct three field experiments in the context of public higher education. The first two experiments study polarization in taxpayer demand. We provide information to shape beliefs about social returns on investment. Our treatments narrow the political partisan gap in ideal policies---a reduction in ideological polarization---by up to 32%, with differences in partisan reasoning as a key mechanism. Providing information also affects how people communicate their ideal policies to elected officials, increasing their propensity to write a (positive) letter to an official of the other party---a reduction in affective polarization. In the third experiment, we send these letters to a randomized subset of elected officials to study how policymakers respond to constituent demand. We find that officials who receive their constituents' demands engage more with higher education issues in our correspondences.

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Christopher D. Brooks, Matthew G. Springer.

We analyzed the proposed spending data for the American Recovery Plan’s Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief III (ESSER III) fund from the spring of 2021 of nearly 3,000 traditional public-school districts in the United States to (1) identify trends in the strategies adopted and (2) to test whether spending strategies were observably heterogeneous across district characteristics. We found that districts proposed a breadth of spending patterns with ESSER III. Moreover, there was a clear prioritization on spending related to academic learning recovery and facilities and operations spending, with the latter being particularly emphasized in higher-poverty districts. This divergent spending pattern may have important equity implications for short-term academic learning recovery for students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Danielle Lowry, Lindsay C. Page, Aizat Nurshatayeva, Jennifer Iriti.

Award displacement occurs when one type of financial aid award directly contributes to the change in the quantity of another award. We explore whether postsecondary institutions displaced awards in response to the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship by capitalizing on the doubling of the maximum Promise amount in 2012. We use de-identified student-level data on each Promise recipient’s actual cost of attendance, grants, and scholarships, as well as demographic and academic characteristics from school district administrative files to examine whether and how components of students’ financial aid packages and total costs of attendance changed after the Promise award increase. To account for overall trends in pricing and financial aid, we compare Promise recipients to the average first-time, full-time freshman entering the same institutions in the same year as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). With these two data sources, we assess differences in costs and awards between Promise students and their peers, on average, and examine whether and in what ways these differences changed after the increase in Promise funding. We refer to this strategy as a “quasi-difference-in-differences” design. We do not find evidence that institutions are responding to the Promise increase through aid reductions.

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Jing Liu, Cameron Conrad, David Blazar.

This study provides the first causal analysis of the impact of expanding Computer Science (CS) education in U.S. K-12 schools on students’ choice of college major and early career outcomes. Utilizing rich longitudinal data from Maryland, we exploit variation from the staggered rollout of CS course offerings across high schools. Our findings suggest that taking a CS course increases students’ likelihood of declaring a CS major by 10 percentage points and receiving a CS BA degree by 5 percentage points. Additionally, access to CS coursework raises students’ likelihood of being employed and early career earnings. Notably, students who are female, low socioeconomic status, or Black experience larger benefits in terms of CS degree attainment and earnings. However, the lower take-up rates of these groups in CS courses highlight a pressing need for targeted efforts to enhance their participation as policymakers continue to expand CS curricula in K-12 education.

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