Working Papers

Funding Schools During Fiscal Crises: The Effects of Federal Recessionary Aid on State Support for Public Education (Job Market Paper)

To protect public investment in education during fiscal crises, the federal government must decide whether and how to provide aid to states for education spending. I study the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, the primary federal aid program for education during the Great Recession, using two identification strategies to estimate how its design affected states' spending decisions by sector (K-12 versus higher education) and recession intensity. First, using pre-treatment data on each state's spending as a share of funds, I estimate how federal aid altered spending relative to expected levels given coinciding changes in state revenues. Second, I exploit the program's spending thresholds to estimate the effects of its maintenance-of-effort provision and total-spending target on states' spending decisions. I find that federal aid substantially increased state education spending during the treatment period, with states spending about 100% of the funds on education initially, and about 40% after three years. This high rate is partly explained by states' compliance with the program's spending requirements, which set a binding floor on many states' spending on higher education; as a result, higher education spending fell sharply after the program ended. Examining heterogeneity by recession intensity reveals that states with smaller budget shortfalls received more than enough aid to restore spending to the intended level. One implication of these findings is that targeting aid dollars by need across states and time may be a more efficient use of public funds. An implication for future research is that spending requirements should be taken into account in causal studies of intergovernmental transfers.

Occupational Licensing in Healthcare and Markets for Higher Education: Evidence from Pharmacy Technicians

States regulate many healthcare professions through occupational licensing. Intended to safeguard consumers, occupational licensing requirements increasingly require training and certification for positions that have traditionally required no more than a high school education. The proliferation of training requirements for these occupations suggests that colleges may be benefiting from licensing, capturing rents from training requirements. To test the hypothesis that licensing requirements create and expand markets for college programs in licensed fields, I focus on a representative occupation, pharmacy technician. Using variation in requirements over time and across states, I estimate the causal effects of occupational licensing requirements on equilibrium price and quantity of relevant college programs. Results show that registration requirements on their own have little effect. However, when states require the completion of a training program, college program completions increase substantially, even though on-the-job employer-sponsored training programs meet the requirement. When states require the passage of an examination, professional certifications increase. In both cases, private entities—for-profit colleges and private certifying bodies—have taken on outsize roles, compared to publicly funded and subsidized community colleges and board-written exams. This work demonstrates that for-profit colleges and certifying bodies can be significant beneficiaries of occupational licensing.

Does Medicaid Reimbursement for School-Based Health Services Help Students?

Public schools are a convenient place to provide students with basic health services, but school districts may underfund these services due to competing financial priorities. I examine the effect of increased subsidies through Medicaid for school-based health services on district spending and student outcomes. In 2014, a federal policy change enabled schools to begin billing Medicaid for services provided to all eligible students; previously only services for students with disabilities were billable. I use a difference-in-difference strategy with data from Louisiana to identify differential effects across school districts with varying proportions of predicted newly eligible students. Despite an aggregate increase in Medicaid reimbursement following the policy change, I fail to find statistically significant and economically meaningful effects among districts with a larger fraction of newly eligible students in the first two years of implementation. A possible implication of the results is that those districts who stand to gain the most from this policy are not those most effective in implementing it.

The Incidence of Pension Costs for Public School Teachers (with Maria Fitzpatrick and Michael Lovenheim)

Unfunded public sector pension liabilities are over $1.3 trillion, but little is known about their economic incidence. We investigate how increases in the pension costs for public school districts change their finances. Fluctuation in unfunded liabilities generates exogenous variation in employer contribution rates, which we combine with baseline payroll to create a simulated instrument for the actual pension costs a district faces. When pension costs increase, districts increase local tax revenue rather than cut spending on teacher salaries or other inputs to education production. Revenues and expenditures increase more-than-fully with pension costs, but property tax levy restrictions reduce such over-shifting.

Body Mass Index and Asthma among Students in New York City Public Schools (with Sophia Day and Kevin Konty)

Existing research has documented a link between obesity and asthma among children and adults. In this study, we examine the extent to which body mass index (BMI) predicts asthma diagnoses among elementary- and middle-school students in New York City Public Schools, as well as how this BMI-asthma relationship varies by gender and race/ethnicity. We use administrative data from the NYC Office of School Health that includes over 6.5 million student-year observations over school years 2006-07 to 2016-17. Using linear probability models with individual student fixed effects, we estimate the effect of BMI on asthma diagnoses. Our measures of BMI include BMI-category, BMI as a percentage of the 95th percentile in CDC growth charts (the obesity cutoff), and average annual change in BMI per year under age 10. The prevalence of asthma increases with BMI-category among students in our sample from less than 10% in the Underweight category to over 20% in the Obese III category, with the strongest correlation between BMI and asthma in the upper range of BMI. Our regression results without controls suggest that a 1-SD increase in BMI is associated with a 2.4-percentage-point (pp) increase in the probability of an asthma diagnosis, but with individual student fixed effects in the model, we find that a 1-SD increase in BMI is associated with only a 0.4-pp increase in the probability of asthma. Estimates are relatively consistent across gender and race/ethnicity subgroups, but the relationship between high-BMI and asthma is strongest among Black boys and White girls and weakest among Asian/Pacific Islander (Asian/PI) girls.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene School Vision Program: A Description of Program Expansion (with Sophia Day, Emanuela Acquafredda, Jill Humphrey, Maria Fitzpatrick, Jasmina Spasojevic, and Kevin Konty)

This study describes how the School Vision Program (SVP) operates in NYC Public Schools, and how it has expanded to provide screening, follow-up, eye exams, and even glasses to more students in recent years. Using administrative data from the SVP, we analyze a population sample of all public-school students with non-missing demographic variables in grades Pre-K through 12, focusing on the most recent year of data, 2018-19. We tabulate rates of screening and other results across students by grade and student characteristics, highlighting the expansion of SVP in community schools beginning in 2015-16. The SVP screens about 87% of students in Pre-K through 1st Grade each school year. Of the 22% of screened students who failed the screening in 2018-19, 69% received follow-up efforts, and 39% completed eye exams. Among students with completed eye exams, 13% of students in Pre-K through 1st grade were diagnosed with amblyopia, and 70% needed glasses. Less advantaged students in terms of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status were less likely to pass vision screenings and less likely to receive eye exams after failing the screening. The SVP’s expansion to all grades in community schools and its provision of eye exams and glasses increased the rate of eye exams to 90% of students with a failed vision screening and distributed glasses to over 22,000 students in grades Pre-K to 12 in 2018-19. The expansion of SVP services in community schools suggests large potential benefits from school districts connecting students who fail vision screenings directly to eye doctors. Otherwise, low rates of follow-up eye exams in younger grades can lead to unidentified and unmet need for vision services in older grades, especially among disadvantaged students.

Works in Progress

The Effects of Targeted Follow-up in School Health Programs on Children’s Health and Academic Achievement: Lessons from the New York City School Vision Program (with Maria Fitzpatrick)

Air Quality, Asthma, and Achievement in New York City Public Schools

Selected Policy Papers

Wheaton, Laura, Victoria Lynch, and Martha Johnson. “The Overlap in SNAP and Medicaid/CHIP Eligibility, 2013.” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. 2017. (Link)

Baum, Sandy and Martha Johnson. “Strengthening Federal Student Aid: An Assessment of Proposals for Reforming Federal Student Loan Repayment and Federal Education Tax Benefits.” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. 2016. (Link)

Baum, Sandy and Martha Johnson. “Financing Public Higher Education: The Evolution of State Funding.” (Link) & “Financing Public Higher Education: Variation across States.” (Link) Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. 2015.

Baum, Sandy and Martha C. Johnson. “Student Debt: Who Borrows Most? What Lies Ahead?” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. 2015. (Link)

Durham, Christin, and Martha Johnson. “Innovations in NYC Health and Human Services Policy: Homelessness Prevention, Intake, and Shelter for Single Adults and Families.” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. 2014. (Link)