Who Benefits from the Public PreK and Increased K-12 Funding? Dynamic Complementarity in California’s Education Policies

Does increased K-12 funding reduce inequality in academic and social-emotional outcomes, and are the effects stronger in contexts where students have had greater access to state pre-school and pre-kindergarten programs?

Large achievement gaps in American public schools persist across economic standing despite decades of policy reform efforts and billions in public expenditures. Evidence suggests that multiple interventions can have impacts over and above the sum of individual reform efforts, but siloed data systems and implementation have hampered researchers’ abilities to evaluate the complementary impact of reforms. This study uses quasi-experimental methods to assess the cumulative effects of three recent, large-scale efforts in California to reduce academic achievement gaps between children from low-income families and their more advantaged counterparts: Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), Transitional Kindergarten (TK), and expansion of public investments in the state’s preschool program (CSPP). Johnson and colleagues will assemble a pathbreaking dataset to examine the complementarity hypothesis (i.e., the question of whether school finance reform, in combination with other interventions, has greater effects on reducing inequalities than school finance reform alone). Notably, the study adds to the evidentiary base by examining social-emotional outcomes, in addition to the usual academic outcomes. Apart from disseminating results to academic audiences, the team will draw on established networks to share findings with policymakers and school leaders at federal, state, and local levels.