Institutional Feedback and Coalition Politics: The Case of School Choice Policies in Advanced Democracies

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Lachance, Anne
Comparative Politcs , Comparative Education Policy , Education , Historical Institutionalism , Coalition Analysis , Sweden , France , United States
This dissertation seeks to identify the political forces that have driven the shift towards school choice in advanced democracies and to explain the variation in policy outcomes observable in these countries. To do so, it examines reforms introduced between 1985 and 2017 in France, Sweden, and Wisconsin, which all moved towards school choice, albeit with varying levels of enthusiasm and immediacy. The main argument defended in this dissertation is that the policy outcomes in each country are the result of the interaction of institutional dynamics and coalition politics. Two institutional dynamics were important in the politics of school choice: institutional feedback effects, which shaped the contestants in each political battle and veto points, which slowed the pace of change. This analysis especially emphasizes the role of negative feedback effects in each country. Educational institutions in Sweden, France, and Wisconsin stimulated a different set of group grievances. Actors who saw themselves as disadvantaged had incentives to call for reform and collaborate with other actors who had similar goals. In other words, negative feedback effects created a different pattern of grievances that political actors mobilized. In all three countries, the strength and stringency of veto points influenced the pace of change. These institutional dynamics interacted with coalition politics. Political parties in particular but also civil society organizations articulated the grievances of the groups angered by education policy. The policy coalitions they built varied in size, duration, and in the type of social interests they incorporated. School choice proponents in Sweden built the strongest and most stable coalition. The American coalition was narrower and incorporated strange bedfellows: religious groups, market conservatives, and African American activists. Finally, French policymakers could not build a coalition that was strong or stable enough to implement their policy agenda. The composition of policy coalitions influenced the outcome of the reform process. In Sweden, the change was deep and universal, while it was shallow and targeted to particular groups in France. In Wisconsin, both shallow-universal and deep-targeted changes were introduced. In combination, the institutional dynamics and coalition politics explain the patterns of educational policy change across these three countries.
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