Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Matthew P. Steinberg


From the mid-1990s to the mid-2010s, school districts across the United States spent over $1.25 trillion on capital outlays to invest in the physical infrastructures of their schools. To finance these expenditures, districts today carry over $400 billion in long-term debt and pay over $17 billion in interest payments annually, figures which have doubled over the past two decades. Despite the immense magnitude of these debt-driven investments, scant research has examined the subject of school district debt and differences which may exist in debt utilization among districts of varying characteristics and across varied state policy contexts. In this paper, I first explore trends in district debt practices over the past two decades on a national basis and decomposed by several different school district characteristics. I then leverage an exogenous shock to the costs of district borrowing, a 2010 municipal credit rating recalibration event, to estimate the effect of cheaper access to debt financing on district debt issuance. I find that in contexts where state governments do not financially support district school facilities expenditures, districts are particularly sensitive to their cost of debt, and issue more debt when it becomes cheaper to do so, particularly districts serving large shares of disadvantaged students. On the other hand, I also present evidence which suggests that additional debt issuance may be crowded out by existing capital expenditures and spent instead on instructional expenditures. As national dialogue regarding infrastructure investments and constrained school district budgets gains increased attention, these findings may inform governmental policies regarding state investments in local school district capital expenditures, particularly in districts serving large shares of disadvantaged students.