Panel Paper: Do School Environments Influence Crime and Substance Abuse?

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 3:20 PM
Preston (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

John MacDonald, University of Pennsylvania and Nancy Nicosia, RAND Corporation

Risk-taking behaviors among youth impose enormous costs on individuals and society.  Given that most individuals initiate these behaviors during school years, schools provide a natural nexus in considering how to promote pro-social change within individuals.  Youth attending poorly-managed and resource-deprived schools are more likely to be exposed to substance use, violence and other harms, even after accounting for local community and family-related attributes.  Improving school environments may serve as an effective preventative intervention because they are environmental anchors for youth and are part of the larger set of structural features of local environments.

A large literature has been devoted to whether funding reforms, which provide an exogenous shock to the resources available to disadvantaged districts, improve academic performance.  In this paper, we examine whether such reforms improve youth outcomes beyond academics.  In particular, we examine whether the implementation of New Jersey Supreme Court’s Abbott decision reduced adverse events related to substance use, crime and related harms among youth living in affected districts.  We generate counts of adverse events by mapping hospitalizations and crime events to school districts.  We first estimate a reduced form specification based on the Abbott ruling and then turn to an IV specification which isolates the change in funding due to the Abbott decision on changes in adverse events.   We use a "differences” approach to compare the change in outcomes between Abbott and non-Abbott school districts before and after the infusion of funding.  To address strong secular trends in outcomes that might confound identification, we further compare outcomes between school-aged youth and young adults unaffected by the Abbott decision.