Biden Names Scholar and Education Next Contributor to Council of Economic Advisers

C. Kirabo Jackson’s research on the impact of K–12 spending leads to White House post

President Joe Biden appointed economist C. Kirabo Jackson to his three-member Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) last Friday, signaling a potential pivot by the administration toward a focus on education leading up to the 2024 election cycle.

Photo of C. Kirabo Jackson
C. Kirabo Jackson

Jackson, the Abraham Harris Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, is a regular contributor to Education Next whose research focuses on the economics of education. His expertise is in labor economics, public finance, and applied econometrics.

Jackson is best known for his research showing that robust school spending can have a substantial long-run impact on students’ educational attainment and earnings as adults (see “Boosting Educational Attainment and Adult Earnings,” research, Fall 2015). Although his findings contradicted prior research indicating that school spending is unrelated to student success, even Jackson’s critics are starting to come around to the idea that a link exists between funding and outcomes.

Jackson’s scholarship has also documented the positive effect of good teachers on student outcomes, from test scores to behavior to attendance (see “The Full Measure of a Teacher,” research, Winter 2019), and how schools that support students’ social-emotional development boost their long-term success (see “Linking Social-Emotional Learning to Long-Term Success,” research, Winter 2021).

It appears the Biden Administration has taken notice. In Jackson, the administration has potentially identified not only an economist whose research aligns with its theory of investing federal dollars to achieve stronger outcomes but also an education scholar who could guide policy as U.S. schools continue to grapple with critical learning loss in the wake of the Covid-19 shutdowns.

Apart from spending—including $122 billion committed to U.S. schools as part of the American Rescue Plan—the Biden Administration has not formulated a clear K–12 education policy agenda since assuming the presidency in January 2021. Although the CEA’s stated purpose is to advise the president on economic policy, Jackson’s appointment could be a sign that the White House is turning its attention to the substantial challenges in the education sector as Biden makes his case for reelection in 2024.

Jackson and his co-members could have their work cut out for them. Public school districts must spend their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds by September 2024. Recent research from Georgetown’s Edunomics Lab indicates that the expiration of this funding source could result in a fiscal cliff for some districts, coinciding with the start of an academic year and weeks before the general election.

The CEA, which was established by Congress in 1946, advises the president through research and by interpreting economic developments. Jackson joins chair Jared Bernstein, an economist who had been Vice President Biden’s chief economic adviser during the Obama Administration, and Heather Boushey, former president of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

Jackson will take a leave of absence from Northwestern to serve on the council.

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