Education Finance and Policy


Units: 12


The purpose of this Heinz course is to introduce professional master's students to the special problems of financing regional governments in a decentralized federal system with a special focus on public education. The course i] reviews theories of federalism from economic and constitutional perspectives, ii] reviews the evolution of the United States from a confederation to a federation, iii] examines financial and political problems associated with jointure, iv] reviews alternative rationales for public financing and provision of education (k-16), v] analyzes distressed school systems and municipal governments, vi] reviews the international evidence on estimated economic returns and distributional effects of k-16 public education and the use of cost-effectiveness and educational production functions, vii] school budgeting issues, viii] the school property tax, ix] intergovernmental relations and the design of school aid formulas, and x] the measurement and implications of student achievement. These issues are examined from positive and normative perspectives, and through the lens of economics and political economy.

Students taking the course are expected to be conversant in basic statistics and its application on a micro-computer, know something about financial accounting or at least have an interest in it, have had an introductory course in micro-economics, and able to apply statistics and economics to real world problem sets that involve the manipulation of data and administrative records. Students who have had Public Finance will find taking the course more natural because the issues of the proper role of government in a market or mixed economy, the effects of different kinds of taxation on the distribution of income and wealth, and on economic efficiency will be more familiar. Students who have not had Public Finance will likely find it necessary to fill in gaps in their background as the course proceeds, and may have to do supplemental reading. Most required reading will be stored on Blackboard under Notes and Reading Materials, and questions to be discussed in class that pertain to the required reading will also be stored on Blackboard in the same folder.

The course is organized into a series of topical sessions, and will be conducted on a lecture-discussion basis. Students are expected to have read the required reading before class. Students are also expected to own and know how to operate an electronic calculator (other than those contained in a cell phone (Thanks to Christine Alagara for pointing this out in class several years ago.)) that is capable of doing x^(a/b). Please be sure you bring such a calculator with you to class each session, bring your Strauss Bucks (See to each session as well, and your answers to course session questions. Generally, students will find that reading the required readings and answering the questions to be discussed at hand will enhance their understanding of the materials to be read. Also, because the midterm and final exams will be based on the questions to be discussed, keeping track of the reading and questions to be discussed will materially aid in the preparation for the two exams.

Students are expected to purchase themselves from an online or non-campus bookstore, a paperback version of The Federalist Papers. For example, a Signet Press version of this classic is available from for $7.95 plus shipping. Whether or not other required readings from various sources will entail other book purchases has not yet been determined.