Stange on investing in schools: Capital spending, facility conditions, and student achievement

August 1, 2016

“Investing in Schools: Capital Spending, Facility Conditions, and Student Achievement” a journal article by Paco Martorell, Kevin Stange, and Isaac McFarlin, has been published in the August 2016 edition of the Journal of Public Economics.


Public investments in repairs, modernization, and construction of schools cost billions. However, little is known about the nature of school facility investments, whether it actually changes the physical condition of public schools, and the subsequent causal impacts on student achievement. We study the achievement effects of nearly 1400 capital campaigns initiated and financed by local school districts, comparing districts where school capital bonds were either narrowly approved or defeated by district voters. Overall, we find little evidence that these school capital campaigns improve student achievement. Event-study analysis focused on the students actually affected by large campus renovations also generates very precise zero estimates of achievement effects. Thus, U.S. school capital campaigns financed by local districts – the predominant method through which facility investments are made – may be a limited tool for realizing substantial gains in student achievement or closing achievement gaps.