School Spending Cuts Lead to Declines in Student Achievement

A new study has found that recession-induced spending cuts in school education in the United States led to declines in student achievement, particularly in school districts serving economically disadvantaged and minority students. It is the second study in recent years showing the effect of spending cuts and the 27th study since 2015 showing that school expenditure has a significant effect on student achievement.

The study found that school spending changes differed between counties according to the intensity of the employment shock of the recession. Spending declined by about $600 per student per year more in counties most adversely affected by the recession compared with schools located in counties least affected.

It then estimated changes in mathematics and English language arts (ELA) achievement among students attending school during the recession who were exposed to two consecutive years of annual and differential spending declines, relative to cohorts of students that entered school after the recession. It found that declines in student achievement were greater for cohorts of students attending school during the recession in communities most adversely affected by recession. While the average effect was small, the resulting achievement gap between students in counties most and least affected by the recession persisted for more than 3 years after the end of the recession.

The declines in student achievement were much larger in school districts with the highest proportions of students qualifying for free/reduced-price lunch and in districts with the highest proportion of Black students. The effect size for economically disadvantaged students was over double the average effect and for Black students it was three times the average. The effects were similar for mathematics and ELA.

The study concluded:

….the Great Recession was associated with both aggregate declines in academic achievement and increases in achievement inequalities between poor and more economically advantaged school districts. [p. 2]

The study is published in the open access journal of the American Educational Research Association 

Trevor Cobbold

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