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Pennsylvania Data Impact Lab


Units: 12


The purpose of this course is to provide a clinical learning environment that involves the use of electronic, relational databases obtained largely from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the US federal government. Students are expected to readily manipulate large, administrative databases to characterize a scio-economic environment, evaluate it, and analyze the implications for changing key policy variables. Students are expected to develop an understanding of the institutional rules of current law, and predict through the manipulation of data the effects of changes in current law.

Last year, the course sought to answer three Covid-19 related emerging public policy issues with respect to local governments based on the analysis of data on Pennsylvania local governments in hand in various formats (Stata, R, SAS).

Question 1: What is the Impact of Covid-19 Induced Unemployment on Property Taxes Received by Local Governments?

What are the direct and indirect effects on cash flows to local governments with the authority to levy real property taxes as a consequence of likely evictions of renters? What evidence from the financial crisis of 2008/9 can be accumulated?

Question 2: What is the impact of Covid-19 on Ability of Local Governments to maintain their real property and to pay Debt Service, especially Public School Districts?

What is the original cost and market value of Pennsylvania’s school buildings and land?

What is the pattern of short-term and long-term indebtedness of Pennsylvania’s school districts, and what assets (land, buildings) do the debt support? Under alternative scenarios. How much do Pennsylvania’s school district pay to maintain their current stock of school buildings?

Question 3: What are the implications of Pennsylvania’s schools going permanently to online education for 100% of students, 75% of students 50% of students in terms of building space requirements, and the indirect implications of each district selling or re-purposing the land and buildings ?


The data sets to be explored:

  1. Mergent MuniBond issues by Pennsylvania Local Governments 1990-2018 (In hand)
  2. 2017 Census of Governments (Expenditures, Revenues, Balance Sheet) for Pennsylvania Local Governments (In hand)
  3. Panel of Pennsylvania School Districts (Expenditures, Revenues, Balance Sheet, Enrollment, 2006-2019) (In hand, 8/15/2020)
  4. Universe of real property parcels and major characteristics for Pennsylvania.(In hand, 8/31/2020)

Data sets used for this course will be maintained on a linux research server that also contains relevant software to manipulate it: SAS, Stata, R, python as well as LibreOffice 7.0.


Learning Outcomes

The project last year sought to:

1] How to estimate properly the relationship between employment, income, and local school district consolidated annual financial information reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education that takes into account time-series econometric problems AND spatial issues of spatial correlation.

Use of Stata and SAS; development of government accounting skills to understand the CAFR's of each of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts;

Use of very large databases in terms of management and merging of files for analytical purposes

Prerequisites Description

Students interested in this course must have taken and passed Statistical Reasoning with R or SAS for Policy, and taken (or exempted out of) the required Heinz accounting course sequence. Written permission of Professor Strauss to take the course can substitute for these course requirements.