Professor explores how school financing, student outcomes are linked
Komla Dzigbede, associate professor of public administration, studies how school debt strategies impact students
For Komla Dzigbede, associate professor and chair of the Department of Public Administration at Binghamton University, the link between U.S. school debt and education outcomes isn’t a new issue — it’s an overlooked one.
“Back when I was working on my dissertation, I was particularly interested in school district financing because school districts form a small unit within the general structure of subnational governments and do not get the attention they deserve as to how their finances are handled,” Dzigbede says.
With over 48 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools nationally, Dzig- bede believes that financial leadership plays an important role in educational needs being met.
Many school districts opt for long-term borrowing to fund capital projects rather than to wait for the funds to become available through annual income sources.
Although this allows them to meet the needs of their students more quickly, he says, this frequently results in unpaid debts.
“School districts require financial resources to care for a variety of capital needs, including equipment and vehicle purchases, facility improvements and new school construction,” he says. “It’s critical that we look at the public financial management strategies of school districts and the extent to which the financial strategies might affect the educational outcomes for current and future generations.”
Dzigbede’s research assesses the efficiency of school district debt strategies and gauges how they impact schools’ abilities to meet student needs.
More about Dzigbede’s research
Q: What are the specific ways that families and students are negatively impacted if a school is in a poor financial situation?
A: School districts that are resource-rich are able to provide more resources to support extracur- ricular activities. These activities keep students engaged before and after school.
Those school districts that are resource-poor do not have these opportunities and are often made up of the families that would benefit the most; the districts in poor financial condition are making these children more marginalized.
Q: What’s an example of an ongoing financial challenge that schools are dealing with today that shows why this particular research is critical?
A: With the COVID-19 crisis, there are many related economic and budgetary shocks that affect all levels of government, especially the smaller units like school districts. An overriding challenge is how to reorganize, retool and re-budget district finances to ensure financial resiliency and support educational outcomes.
Often large school districts that are resource-rich are able to strategize, adapt and move items across budgets while accessing additional funds to weather the storm and thrive. That efficiency is often missing when school districts are resource-poor.