Missouri Policy Journal


This short paper looks for evidence of a link between K-12 education spending and student outcomes in Missouri during the years following the Great Recession. There are two reasons why this period is of interest. First, several studies have argued that an erosion in student outcomes occurred in many states during the period because severe budget crises led to spending cuts for K-12 education. Second, because the spending cuts were larger and more sustained than is typical, any negative effects on student outcomes would be exacerbated and more apparent. Thus, the period might be useful statistically given that causal links between K-12 spending and outcomes have been difficult to nail down. The current state of the literature is that some types of spending has been shown to increase some student outcomes some of the time.

This period has been examined nationwide by Jackson, Wigger, and Xiong (2021), who showed that states with the largest losses in student attainment tended to have been those that had the largest cuts in spending on public schools. Similarly, Shores and Steinberg (2019), who focused more on general economic conditions than on spending, found that counties with the biggest economic downturns saw the biggest declines in student outcomes. Rauscher (2020) looks at the period for Kansas and pays particular attention to differences between rural and non-rural schools.

The focus of this paper is Missouri’s spending on teaching resources as measured by real per pupil spending on regular teacher salaries. As Figure 1 illustrates, this spending rose in the first years of the recession as states’ education budgets were bolstered by Federal assistance, but began to decline after 2010 when Federal assistance ended and states were still facing tight budgets. By 2014, spending was almost 5 percent below its peak. Figure 1 also shows how Missouri student outcomes, as measured by total proficiency rates for grades 3-8 in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics, changed over the period. Proficiency rates in both subjects were rising through the first years of the Great Recession, but gains slowed and became losses in the years following the end of the recession.

The remainder of the paper is split into five sections. Section 2 presents the general empirical model and describes the data and associated summary statistics. Section 3 provides estimates of the model using data for all elementary schools in the state. The data set is split by locale (city, suburb, town, rural) and described in section 4. Section 5 provides locale-specific estimates, while section 6 concludes.



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