Impacts of Public School Choice on Neighborhoods: Evidence from Los Angeles (job market paper)
Public school choice—an increasingly common feature of urban school reform—decouples neighborhoods from schools, changing longstanding incentives for families deciding where to live. In this paper, I estimate the impact of public school choice on neighborhood composition and segregation using a difference-in-differences strategy. I leverage a high school choice program in Los Angeles that created specific geographic areas within the district—Zones of Choice (ZOCs)—where students have to choose between multiple high school options. Traditional school attendance boundaries were left intact in the rest of the district. I find that families strategically sort across neighborhoods in response to school choice, with high-income families leaving areas where the policy was implemented and middle-, upper-middle income families being drawn in or staying. I also find that families sort within neighborhoods in response to school choice, leading to a 6-9 percentage point reduction in income segregation in neighborhoods with choice relative to neighborhoods without choice. My results suggest that certain types of school choice policies could contribute to the voluntary creation of more mixed-income neighborhoods, but families at the top end of the income distribution may decide to leave these areas entirely. These dynamics are important to understand as policymakers seek to foster economic connectedness and to design equitable school choice policies that serve all students.
Public School Choice, Outside Options, and Public School Enrollment
In this paper, I study the effect of winning the public school choice lottery on public school enrollment. In particular, I look at how different outside options affect how sensitive students are to receiving their first choice in the public school lottery, focusing on three measures of outside options: ability to afford private schools, geographic convenience of private schools, and zoned-school quality. Using rich administrative data from applications submitted through a centralized enrollment system in Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), I find that overall, students who do not get assigned to their top choice school in a public school choice program are 15 percentage points more likely to leave the public school system entirely than those who do get an offer at their top choice. This effect is driven by higher-income students: these students, who are more likely to be able to afford private schools, are 33 percentage points more likely to leave the public school system if they do not get an offer at the public school they rank first than those who do get a spot. Geographic convenience of private schools and zoned-school quality do not differentially affect students’ enrollment decisions once they receive a school assignment. These effects are important to understand as districts undergo efforts to increase participation in school choice programs, while seeking to maintain district enrollment. They also provide useful insights about how attrition may affect estimates of the impact of choice schools on student outcomes.
Working paper here.
Public School Choice and Funding Inequality
I analyze the relationship between public school choice and school funding inequality. First, I assess whether schools of choice (magnets, charters, special programs) receive more or less per capita funding than traditional public schools. Then, I examine whether districts with more choice have significantly more or less funding inequality across their schools than districts without choice. Finally, I analyze family preferences in a specific school district to assess whether families tend to prefer schools that receive more funding, holding constant a variety of other school characteristics. This analysis brings together two significant areas of education policy—school choice and school finance—to shed light onto as yet unstudied topics that are made possible by the recent release of school-level (as opposed to district-level) finance data. The results have policy implications for understanding the effects of public school choice policies as well as designing more equitable school choice policies in the future.