Politics of Charter Schools: Competing National Advocacy Coalitions Meet Local Politics

Occasional Paper 119
Michael Kirst
February 2006

In today's struggle to advance charter schools, who's wagging the dog? In this fascinating look at the complex world of local and state-level politicking over charter schools, Kirst argues that the war for charters will be won not by high-power Washington-types in suits, but by the rag-tag collection of leaders and organizations working to establish charters across the nation. "At the national level," Kirst writes, "charters are part of political competition between two competing advocacy networks that want to expand or constrain school choice." However, this struggle between the two superpowers "obscures the wide variety of charter school political action that takes place at the state and local level." He outlines the wide variety of local and state-level groups both for and against charters, and the multifarious ways in which they operate. Kirst provides insight into why, for example, a proposed conversion charter school in Sacramento generated a political firestorm, while a proposed start-up charter in the same city garnered barely a complaint. Or why Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown couldn't sell his idea for a National Guard military charter to local leaders, but had no trouble selling it to state officials. The legion of variables at the state and local level means that the charter war is not as simple as being on the choice side or the traditional public school side. "The winner between the two major competing advocacy coalitions," Kirst concludes, "will vary according to many diverse state and local contexts." Woof. Read the report here.

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