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Title: Where did the Money Go? An Empirical Analysis of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Expenditures in California Public Districts
Authors: O'Toole, Charlotte
Advisors: Jennings, Jennifer
Department: Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Class Year: 2024
Abstract: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds were the largest infusions of one-time federal funds into public education to date, allocating over $189.5 billion to address the impact of the coronavirus on K-12 education. Given the size and discretionary nature of these funds, significant inquiry is necessary to understand how districts made spending decisions and where these funds went. This thesis represents the first empirical analysis of the effects of academic achievement and district poverty levels on the expenditure of ESSER funds in California public districts. I construct a novel dataset of district-level expenditures, measures of student poverty, and academic achievement data to evaluate the associations between socioeconomic and achievement factors and district-level ESSER expenditures. This study arrived at several inter-related findings. District poverty level had a significantly larger influence on ESSER expenditures than measures of academic achievement. Observed relations between measures of academic achievement and ESSER expenditures, while statistically significant, are of extremely small magnitude. Ultimately, modest impacts of academic achievement on ESSER expenditures, when compared to measures of district poverty, reflect the enduring influence of historical funding disparities in shaping educational expenditures. Accordingly, exhibited relationships between district poverty levels and ESSER expenditures reflect these longstanding inequities in funding and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on lower income communities. Taken together, this study provides evidence for historical inequities, rather than measures of student learning, as underlying determinants of educational expenditures.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2024

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