Texas Schools Project Researchers to Investigate Bond Funding, Student Outcomes
Dec. 11, 2014
Dr. Isaac McFarlin Jr.
U.S. school districts regularly turn to bonds to fund building renovation and construction, classroom modernization and technology enhancements. Researchers at UT Dallas’ Texas Schools Project are investigating whether those investments pay off when it comes to student success.
“While we know a lot about how people and programs affect school outcomes, we know virtually nothing about how facilities enter the equation,” said Dr. Eric A. Hanushek, Texas Schools Project executive committee chair. “This research promises a rigorous study of the impact of capital expenditures on student performance.”
In Texas, 86 percent of voters approved $6.2 billion requested in May in school bond referendums, according to the Texas Association of School Business Officials.
Texas Schools Project research associate Dr. Isaac McFarlin Jr. is the principal investigator for the project.
“Billions of dollars are spent annually to construct new schools, and to repair and upgrade existing ones,” said McFarlin, who is based at the University of Michigan. “In 2008 alone, state and local governments spent more than $66 billion to improve the overall quality of school facilities, and another $400 billion is owed in school improvement and construction bond debt.”
The study sample consists of Texas’ 5.5 million K-12 public school students from more than 820 school districts that held school bond elections between 1997 and 2009. Researchers will determine:
- How school districts allocate these investments across individual campuses.
- Whether these investments improve the condition of school facilities.
- How the investments affect student success, including students’ test scores, attendance, disciplinary actions and high school graduation rates.
“Because these investments can indirectly affect student progress through critical channels such as teacher working conditions, we’ll also evaluate the significance of facility spending on reducing instructor turnover,” McFarlin said.
Dr. Rodney Andrews, director of the Texas Schools Project and UT Dallas assistant professor of economics, said the study will take advantage of the large repository of individual-level, administrative records available through the UT Dallas Education Research Center (ERC), housed at the Texas Schools Project.
The Texas Schools Project study is supported by a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. McFarlin is collaborating with Dr. Kevin M. Stange of the University of Michigan and Dr. Paco Martorell of the University of California, Davis.
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“This project is one example of the serious research taking place at the Texas Schools Project that commanded substantial funding,” Andrews said. “These researchers are from well-established, Tier One universities, and they are willing to invest their time and resources to conduct research here at UT Dallas. I hope that this project generates interest among UT Dallas researchers and students to take advantage of the opportunities available at the Texas Schools Project.”