The Fiscal Cost of Weak Governance: Evidence from Teacher Absence in India
We construct a new nationally-representative panel dataset of schools across 1297 villages in India and find that the large investments in public primary education over the past decade have led to substantial improvements in input-based measures of school quality, including infrastructure, pupil-teacher ratios, and monitoring. However, teacher absence continues to be high, with 23.6 percent of teachers in public schools across rural India being absent during unannounced visits to schools. Improvements in school infrastructure and service conditions are not correlated with lower teacher absence. We find two robust correlations in the nationally-representative panel data that corroborate findings from smaller-scale experiments. First, reductions in pupil-teacher ratios are correlated with increased teacher absence. Second, increases in the frequency of inspections are strongly correlated with lower teacher absence. We estimate that the fiscal cost of teacher absence in India is around $1.5 billion per year, and that investing in better governance by hiring more inspectors to increase the frequency of monitoring could be over ten times more cost effective at increasing teacher-student contact time (net of teacher absence) than hiring more teachers.
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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20299
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