From the Field

Research Notes: How Electoral Considerations Affect School Board Spending

With many school boards are elected by the voters, a recent working paper from the Annenberg Institute examines how school board members’ electoral incentives impact how they distribute resources across schools.

Using data on discretionary spending from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board Member Priority Projects program Brian T. Hamel from Louisiana State University finds that board members’ electoral considerations do play a role in their spending decisions. LAUSD school board members disproportionately invested their discretionary funds in schools within politically competitive or moderately supportive neighborhoods relative to schools in solidly opposed or solidly supportive neighborhoods.

While the priority projects are a small portion of the overall LAUSD budget, they still represent $21 million in spending over the nine years covered in the study and affect expenditures ranging from upgraded internet access to new auditoriums.

This study reveals that discretionary spending in the context of democratically elected school boards has the potential to adversely impact educational equality as board members’ electoral goals affect their resource allocation decisions.

Inequality in the Classroom: Electoral Incentives and the Distribution of Local Education Spending

January 2023

Brian T. Hamel