Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Education Reform


Patrick J. Wolf

Committee Member

Jay P. Greene

Second Committee Member

Tom E. Smith


Economics of education, Education policy, Identification, Incentives, Special education


Vital to the discussion around special education is the topic of identification and de-identification as having a disability that impacts one’s education. Variation in special education enrollment across geographic locations, racial groups, and schooling sectors causes researchers to question the process and incentives involved in identification and de-identification. The studies that comprise this dissertation aim to analyze the effects that educational policies have on special education identification and subsequent enrollment. Specifically, the studies cover the special education finance, school accountability, and school choice policies.

The special education finance reform effort of switching from a prospective to a capitation funding system over the last 20 years provides the opportunity to employ an event study framework to determine the average effect of these policy changes on special education enrollment. Building on prior research on this topic, this study analyzes data from all 50 states and D.C. on special education enrollment and school resources from 1991-2013. In implementing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), states had flexibility to determine the minimum size of subgroups to provide statistical reliability along with accountability for as many schools as possible. If a school’s enrollment of a subgroup did not meet the state’s minimum subgroup size, the proficiency of the students in the group was not calculated as part of AYP. For this reason, we anticipate seeing a cliff in which rates of students with disabilities drop significantly at the cutoff, demonstrating a school’s response to accountability incentives. We use data from over 1,000 Arkansas schools for the years 2004-05 to 2013-14 in a school-level fixed effects analyses to show how falling below the minimum subgroup cutoff of 40 is associated with a decrease in students with disabilities at a school. Lastly, we conduct the first experimental analysis of the impact of enrollment in a private school choice program on special education identification and de-identification. Using data for almost 2,000 students who were randomly assigned to private schools in the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), we analyze the local average treatment effects of the program on the probability of a student being identified or de-identified in special education.