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We combine administrative and survey data to examine the effect of a conditional cash transfer program on grade progression in Nicaragua from 19992003, putting the spotlight on initial supply side conditions and the extent to which they conditioned program effectiveness. Our principal findings are that the program had a substantial effect on grade progression and that these increased over time, even after the original intervention group stopped receiving demand-side transfers. Half of the estimated program effect on progression is accounted for by a reduction in the dropout and repetition rates of beneficiary children who were already in school when the program began. Supply side conditions were important and several of them led to heterogeneous program impacts. The program was more effective in areas with autonomous schools, suggesting flexibility at the school level better enabled schools to respond to changing demand conditions. At the same time, it was also more effective in intervention areas with poor initial supply conditions as measured by indicators of grade availability and distance to school. These were the areas with lower enrollments and grade progression before the program, and thus more room for improvement. With the analysis of child schooling in hand, we then turn to assess the effect of the program on school supply conditions. It is precisely in the intervention areas with poor initial school supply conditions, that the program was relatively more effective in improving school supply as measured by grade availability, number of sessions per day and number of teachers. The results suggest that initial school supply conditions do not represent insurmountable obstacles for the implementation of a conditional cash transfer program, as long as these constraints are identified at the planning stage and mechanisms put in place to deal with them during the execution stage. Our results also underscore the importance of carefully considering the integrated (demand and supply) nature of conditional-cash-transfer programs, something often overlooked in the design of these interventions and, particularly, in the impact evaluation literature.

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Alexis Murphy

Ferdinando Regalia

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