We study how political party turnover in mayoral elections in Brazil affects the provision of public education. Exploiting a regression discontinuity design for close elections, we find that municipalities with a new party in office have test scores that are 0.05–0.08 standard deviations lower than comparable municipalities with no change in the political party. Party turnover leads to a sharp increase in the replacement rate of headmasters and teachers in schools controlled by the municipality. In contrast, we show that turnover in the political party of the mayor does not impact the replacement rate of school personnel or student test scores for local (non-municipal) schools that are not controlled by the municipal government. These findings suggest that political turnover in Brazilian municipalities negatively impacts student outcomes through political discretion over the municipal education bureaucracy. Political turnover can adversely affect the quality of public service provision in environments where the bureaucracy is not shielded from the political process.
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