Beyond the Echo-Chamber: State Investments and Student Outcomes in U.S. Elementary and Secondary Education


The goal of this article is to explore the heterogeneity of state investments in elementary and secondary education over the period from 1993 to 2013, evaluating both the level of funding over time and the extent to which funding is targeted to districts serving high-poverty populations. This paper then explores a) whether those levels and distributions of funding lead to changes in the levels and distributions of staffing across school districts by student needs, and b) whether the cross-state heterogeneity of funding and staffing resources is associated with heterogeneity of student outcomes. We find a) that states with greater overall investment in education and with more intensive staffing per pupil tend across the board to have higher outcomes for low-income students, and b) progressiveness of spending and staffing are consistently, positively associated with outcomes for low-income students. Additionally, states with more progressively distributed staffing have smaller achievement gaps across the board, and states with higher overall levels of staffing have smaller achievement gaps in 4th grade. Finally, increases in staffing levels are associated with higher achievement levels for low-income students’ in 4th grade reading and 4th and 8th grade math. Higher levels of staffing are also associated with reductions in achievement gaps and improvements to disparities in achievement across schools. Increased spending levels are associated with higher levels of low-income student achievement in 4th grade reading and 4th and 8th grade math and increased spending progressiveness associated with reductions in 4th grade achievement gaps. In other words, even short-run, minimally lagged changes in resource levels and distributions appear to influence student achievement, as measured by NAEP.