THE POLITICS OF NON-INCREMENTAL SCHOOL FINANCE REFORM: A CASE STUDY ANALYSIS OF VERMONT'S ACT 60 AS A TEST OF MAZZONI'S ARENA MODEL
Curtis, Kimberly Anne
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This research, grounded in political theory, had two major purposes: 1) to explain a case of non-incremental policy change within the realm of school finance reform; and 2) to test the utility of Mazzoni's (1991) arena model for explaining state-level school finance policymaking. These goals were accomplished through an examination of the Vermont state legislature's policymaking process in response to the Vermont Supreme Court Brigham v. State (1997) ruling declaring the state's system of school finance unconstitutional. This analysis sought to explain how key political actors, taking advantage of favorable reform conditions, utilized power derived from positional authority as well as personal influence to impact the passage of Act 60, an innovative and forcefully redistributive piece of school finance legislation. The research employed a qualitative case method as a means to answer the research questions. Data collection drew from an informant interview process supported by extensive primary and secondary source document review. Data were systematically analyzed against the conceptual framework, presented in a case narrative and discussed in light of related literature to generate analytic conclusions with regard to the process of state education policymaking for school finance. Study findings highlight the general utility of Mazzoni's arena model in explaining non-incremental policy change in the realm of school finance reform; the importance of politically savvy and well-situated policy entrepreneurs who can take advantage of propitious events such as a court ruling to advance non-incremental policy reform; and the role of political elites in advancing the cause of school finance reform. Suggestions for future research include the potential refinement of the arena model to include a judicial arena and the use of other policy frameworks to analyze non-incremental policy innovation for school finance.