Despite extensive public infrastructure spending, surprisingly little is known about its economic return. In this paper, we estimate the value of school facility investments using housing markets: standard models of local public goods imply that school districts should spend up to the point where marginal increases would have zero effect on local housing prices. Our research design isolates exogenous variation in investments by comparing school districts where referenda on bond issues targeted to fund capital expenditures passed and failed by narrow margins. We extend this traditional regression discontinuity approach to identify the dynamic treatment effects of bond authorization on local housing prices, student achievement, and district composition. Our results indicate that California school districts underinvest in school facilities: passing a referendum causes immediate, sizable increases in home prices, implying a willingness to pay on the part of marginal homebuyers of $1.50 or more for each $1 of capital spending. These effects do not appear to be driven by changes in the income or racial composition of homeowners, and the impact on test scores appears to explain only a small portion of the total housing price effect.
Citation: Quarterly Journal of Economics, 125 (1):215-261. February 2010.