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Explaining varied willingness to pay for elementary and secondary public schools

Dana Brooke Cohn, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


School districts across the United States are waging battles to increase their revenues. It is plausible that their difficulty in doing so is due in part to some citizens' limited willingness to pay for public schools. If school district officials had a better understanding of what explains varied willingness to pay for K-12 public education, they could generate more buy in from citizens and increase their revenues. In this dissertation I will investigate the following primary research question: What explains the variation in citizens' and communities' willingness to pay for elementary and secondary public education? The current literature on this topic is sparse. What does exist I argue is flawed because of a focus on the aggregate level of analysis, poor operationalization of the dependent variable willingness to pay, and incomplete explanatory models. ^ My central hypothesis is that willingness to pay for K-12 public schools is a function of economic and social/cultural characteristics, along with political beliefs and evaluations of schools. I test this comprehensive model of willingness to pay for elementary and secondary schools with regression analyses using aggregate level Nebraska school district data and micro level survey data from a Nebraska citizen deliberation event. I conclude that variation in individual willingness to financially support K-12 public schools is a function of three variables: (1) beliefs about the appropriateness of one's property taxes, (2) beliefs about the frugality of one's school district, and (3) whether or not a person is a volunteer in the public schools. I believe education policymakers have the ability to influence these variables in order to garner more support for public schools and, thus, meet more of their school districts' financial needs. Beyond providing a new explanation for varied willingness to pay for schools and corresponding policy prescriptions, this dissertation also furthers the study of willingness to pay by moving beyond the economic definition of the concept to a definition that is more in accordance with the aims of education policymakers. ^

Subject Area

Education, Finance|Political Science, General

Recommended Citation

Cohn, Dana Brooke, "Explaining varied willingness to pay for elementary and secondary public schools" (2006). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3217537.