Policy Sciences

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 33-55

First online:

Policy dynamics and the evolution of state charter school laws

  • Thomas T. HolyokeAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, California State University, Fresno Email author 
  • , Jeffrey R. HenigAffiliated withTeachers College, Columbia University
  • , Heath BrownAffiliated withDepartment of Public Affairs, Roanoke College
  • , Natalie Lacireno-PaquetAffiliated withLearning Innovations, WestEd

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Baumgartner and Jones (1993) showed how radically new policies emerge on government agendas as a consequence of exogenous shocks to policy subsystems displacing privileged interests. But how do these policies evolve post-punctuation? In this paper, we present three different models of policy change. Policies may revert to the old status quo if displaced interests re-assert themselves, or they may be “locked-in” by new interests now reaping the benefits. Alternatively, they may incrementally change as lawmakers “learn” how to better meet target population needs, particularly by witnessing how other jurisdictions address similar problems. We test these models with data on change in state charter schools laws over time. We find that whether old status quos are overthrow, and the fate of charter policies when they are enacted, is influenced more by competing political interests, especially interest groups, than elite and public perceptions of broad systemic crises. Yet, we also find that changing demands on the state and learning from the successes and failures of neighboring states also play significant roles.


Public policy Punctuated equilibrium Pluralism Charter schools Education