Panel: Public Spending on Children: Patterns and Implications for Policy
(Family and Child Policy)

Thursday, November 8, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Tyler - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Julia Isaacs, Urban Institute
Discussants:  Jeffrey Holland, Peter G. Peterson Foundation and Kristin Blagg, Urban Institute

How Would Spending on Children be Affected By the Proposed 2019 Budget?
Cary Lou, Julia Isaacs and Ashley Hong, Urban Institute

Understanding Long-Term Trends in the Progressivity of State Finance and School Spending
Elizabeth Cascio, Dartmouth College, Nora Gordon, Georgetown University and Sarah Reber, University of California, Los Angeles

How Much Does It Cost to Provide an Adequate Educational Opportunity to All Students in California?
Jesse Levin, Iliana Brodziak de los Reyes, Drew Atchison, Karen Manship, Melissa Arellanes and Lynn Hu, American Institutes for Research

Prior research has linked children’s access to social safety net and education programs and positive long-term benefits as adults and to society more generally. Negative experiences in early childhood including poor nutrition, maternal stress, substance use, and environmental exposures can effect later-life health and labor market outcomes. 

However, public spending is infrequently provisioned based on prospective long-term impact with short-term financial, political, and policy concerns at the forefront of decision making. Debates around public-sector spending priorities would benefit from an appraisal of the types of public spending associated with the greatest benefits for children, the amount of resources needed to provide adequate public services, and how these align with past, current, and expected future spending.  

The three papers in this panel examine the level and trends in public spending on children’s programs with a particular focus on K-12 education funding. In the first paper, Lou, Isaacs, and Hong turn to future trends in funding for children’s programs, analyzing the amount of federal spending projected over the next ten years under current law and the president’s proposed 2019 budget. Under the president’s budget, funding for kids’ programs is expected to fall further than under current law and interest payments and programs targeted at the elderly will account for almost all spending growth. Non-defense discretionary programs are particularly hard hit and these comprise much of the spending thought of as investments in children’s futures including education and housing assistance.

In the second paper, Cascio, Gordon, and Reber examine trends in the progressivity of spending on education by state and local government, the largest source of public spending on children. Drawing on district-level data 1972-present, they present how school funding progressivity within states has changed, differences across states, and correlations between these trends and state demographics and finance regimes. By highlighting the evolution of these trends and relationships over time, this work helps inform the policy choices states must make to balance pursuing progressivity to target children that may benefit disproportionately from investment and other goals and constraints.

In the third paper, Levin et al. tackle the issues of how much funding public school systems need to provide an adequate education and how states should distribute their resources to ensure equitable funding and an adequate education for all students. Using a professional judgement approach, the authors perform a costing-out study for public K-12 schools and districts in California. The study compares these estimated costs with actual spending and resources specified by the state’s current funding formula for districts overall and by urban-rural status, poverty level, and student achievement. Finally, implications for policy are discussed.

Our discussants, Jeffrey Holland and Jane Waldfogel provide a range of expertise. With experience at the Congressional Budget Office and now at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Holland brings a governmental and practice perspective. He provides a big-picture view on the federal budget and where children's programs fit into it. Jane Waldfogel has expertise in the effect of public policies on child and family welfare.

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