No Spending Without Representation: School Boards and the Racial Gap in Education Finance

79 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2020 Last revised: 14 Feb 2022

See all articles by Brett Fischer

Brett Fischer

University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: November 14, 2021


This paper provides causal evidence that greater minority representation on school boards translates into greater investment in minority students. Focusing on California school boards, I obtain causal effects by instrumenting for minority (specifically, Hispanic) school board representation using the random order in which candidates appear on election ballots. Given the dearth of school-level expenditure data, I introduce detailed records from California’s School Facility Program (SFP), a capital investment program for which I observe how school boards allocate the marginal dollar within district. Instrumental variables estimates show that an additional Hispanic school board member increases SFP-funded investments at high-Hispanic schools within the district by 69 percent, with significantly lower effects at low-Hispanic schools. High-Hispanic schools also exhibit gains in student achievement of 0.10 standard deviations. I attribute this improved performance broadly to increased investment in these schools: new instructor hiring at high-Hispanic schools decreases by 23 percent. These results provide the first causal evidence that school board politics—and, specifically, school board ethnic composition—shapes education finance policy at the local level. I conclude that enhancing minority representation on school boards could help combat disparities in education finance and achievement.

Keywords: School boards, education finance, school spending, student outcomes

JEL Classification: H41, H72, H75, I22, I24

Suggested Citation

Fischer, Brett, No Spending Without Representation: School Boards and the Racial Gap in Education Finance (November 14, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Brett Fischer (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

2521 Channing Way
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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