School Boards and Student Segregation

Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Hugh Macartney
John D. Singleton


This paper provides the first causal evidence about how elected local school boards affect student segregation across schools. The key identification challenge is that the composition of a school board is potentially correlated with unobserved determinants of school segregation. We overcome this issue using a regression discontinuity design at the electoral contest level, exploiting quasi-random variation from narrowly-decided elections. Such an approach is made possible by a unique dataset, which combines matched information about North Carolina school board candidates with time-varying district-level racial and economic segregation outcomes. Focusing on the political identity of school board members, regression discontinuity estimates reveal that (relative to their non-Democratic counterparts) Democratic board members decrease racial segregation across schools. Our findings suggest that school boards realize such reductions in segregation by shifting attendance zones (which we infer without the need for exact geocoded boundaries) and that white families differentially exit the traditional public school system for local charter schools in response.


Macartney, Hugh and John D. Singleton. "School Boards and Student Segregation." Journal of Public Economics 164 (2018): 165-182.

Journal of Public Economics