Some of the material in is restricted to members of the community. By logging in, you may be able to gain additional access to certain collections or items. If you have questions about access or logging in, please use the form on the Contact Page.
This dissertation is composed of three related papers, all using natural experiments from the state of Wisconsin to examine critical issues in education policy such as the importance of school funding and teacher compensation reform for student outcomes, and the role that teachers' unions play in the teacher labor market. The first chapter examines the impact of additional school spending on educational outcomes. In Wisconsin, state-imposed revenue limits cap the total amount of revenue that a school district can raise for operating expenses. If a district wishes to exceed revenue limits to increase operational expenditures, it must hold a local “operational referendum.” I leverage close elections in a dynamic regression discontinuity (RD) framework that compares school districts that narrowly approve a referendum to those in which the initiative is narrowly defeated. Importantly, Wisconsin law requires school districts to hold separate referenda for operational purposes (e.g., instruction and support services) and for bond issues targeted to fund school facility investments. This allows me to estimate the independent effects of additional operational and capital expenditures. I find that narrowly passing an operational referendum leads to a 5% increase in per-pupil spending. Increases in operational funds result in a 25% reduction in the dropout rate, an increase in test scores of approximately 10% of a standard deviation, and a 15% increase in postsecondary enrollment. In contrast, narrowly approving a bond referendum leads to a sharp and immediate increase in capital outlays. These additional funds are primarily used to repair, maintain, or upgrade existing structures and are not associated with improvements in student outcomes. The second chapter examines the impact of performance-pay teacher compensation schemes on the quality of new teacher supply. I exploit a shift toward performance pay in Wisconsin induced by the enactment of Wisconsin's Act 10 in 2011, which severely reduced the influence of teachers' unions in the state and gave school districts autonomy to redesign their compensation schemes. Following the law, half of Wisconsin school districts eliminated salary schedules and started negotiating pay with individual teachers based on performance. Comparing the quantity of teaching degrees in Wisconsin institutions before and after Act 10, and relative to those in similar states, I find that Act 10 led to a 20% increase in teaching degrees. This effect was entirely driven by selective universities, which suggests that the quality of the prospective teacher pool in Wisconsin increased as a result of the union reform. Finally, the third chapter examines the short-run impact of a weakening of teachers' unions on student achievement. The chapter exploits plausibly exogenous variation in the timing of exposure to Act 10 due to differences in the expiration dates of pre-existing collective bargaining agreements across school districts. I find that the law reduced average test scores on the state's standardized exam by approximately 20% of a standard deviation. Results from quantile regressions indicate that this effect was largely driven by declines in the lower half of the student achievement distribution. I explore plausible mechanisms behind the observed decline in achievement, and present evidence that the law led to a significant increases in teacher turnover.