Foster presents paper on educational reform at AEFP

There is a lot of concern among policymakers, scholars and ordinary citizens about the quality of education in the U.S., particularly among disadvantaged populations, according to John Foster, professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy Analysis (PAPA) at SIUE.

MPA professor John Foster has spent years studying educational reform among underprivileged states such as Kentucky and Tennessee with co-author Eugenia Toma of their research project. He presented at a conference their findings in Washington D.C. Photo by Theresa San Luis.

“The effects of school finance equalization on the budgetary decisions made by school districts is a salient topic for education policy scholars and practitioners,” Foster said.

Foster co-authored a paper with Eugenia Toma, professor of Public Administration at the University of Kentucky on the topic comparing two demographically similar states: Tennessee and Kentucky in their educational reform agendas.

Titled, “The Effects of Fiscal Centralization on Education Employment and Aggregate Property Values,” he presented their investigative research for the annual meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP), a three-day conference in Washington, D.C.

Foster, formerly an intern for the Kentucky legislature when he was an MPA student at the University of Kentucky, worked on the research staff for the Program Review and Investigations Committee and said he learned a lot about state politics and about the significant impact that state government can have on people’s lives.

“As a PhD student, and now as an assistant professor, I have initiated a research agenda that examines how government entities such as schools and in some cases, state and local governments, react to changes in their economic, social, and policy environments,” Foster said. “I’m also interested in the impacts of education reform policies on educational outcomes.”

According to Foster, Kentucky differs from Tennessee in that the former state adopted an ambitious school finance equalization reform in 1990.

The Kentucky state government placed caps on the educational spending of high income school districts while low income districts were provided with support funds. Similar reforms were not carried out in Tennessee.

Foster said research of this nature looks at how schools utilize resources that they receive from state government. Thus, it could influence the extent to which policymakers support school finance equalization and how they structure such reforms.

He added that it contributes to the field because a number of previous studies have looked at the effects of school finance equalization on the levels and distribution of school district spending.

“Ours is one of the few studies that examines the effects of school finance equalization on the level and mix of school district employment,” Foster said.

Foster and Toma found that  the number of non-instructional employees (health, recreation, clerical and transportation workers) increased by 15 percent in Kentucky’s low-income districts in comparison to instructional workers: teacher aids, classroom teachers and principals by about half as much following the implementation of the reforms.

Foster and Toma proceeded to gauge the effects of the school finance equalization reforms on school quality by comparing the change in property values in Kentucky school districts to that which occurred in Tennessee districts during the study period.

“Property value has been used as a measure of school quality by education scholars because the demand for homes in relatively good school districts should be relatively strong, which should put upward pressure on property values,” Foster said. “Thus, if a particular education reform improves school quality, then we should observe an increase in home values among the affected districts, after controlling for the other factors that influence property values.”

According to Foster, they actually observed a significant decrease in property values among middle- and low-income Kentucky districts relative to Tennessee districts.

Foster said these preliminary results merit further investigation.

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