Title: Group Power and Policy Change in Education
Interest group scholars have struggled to document whether and how interest groups impact policy outcomes. At the same time, large, powerful vested interests like teachers’ unions have been accused of getting in the way of policy change, despite a lack of consistent evidence. This dissertation uses the case of education reform to disentangle the role of different types of interest groups in U.S. state policymaking. Through four essays, this dissertation shows that interest group power comes in multiple forms, that interest groups benefit where they have legislative allies, and that interest competition impacts policy. Bucking the conventional wisdom that, as the strongest interest group in education, teachers’ unions’ preferences dictate education policy outcomes, I show that teachers’ unions most strongly impact those policies that affect them organizationally. For other policies, however, other groups matter more. I show that education reform groups use information and assistance, while philanthropic foundations use funding to state bureaucracies to further policies that teachers’ unions oppose.
The first essay revives the classic “two faces of power” insight, which proposed that power involves not just the ability to impact policy decisions, but also influence as a result of controlling the agenda. This study examines how the two types of interest group power shape policymaking. Using the case of teachers’ unions, it tests the proposition that setting the agenda (the second face of power) has a stronger relationship with policy outcomes than engaging in open contestation (the first face of power). It finds that the second face of power is associated with policy influence, while open contestation, measured with campaign contributions, is less related to influence and increases with threats. When groups cannot set the agenda, open contestation is instead associated with group competition. This helps explain the null finding for campaign contributions and policy influence in the literature.
How do interest groups shape the diffusion of policies they oppose across the states? The second essay explores this question using a novel dataset on charter, voucher, and performance pay policies spanning 1992 to 2013. I find evidence that teachers’ unions’ strength decreases the likelihood that performance pay policies are enacted and that the size of this impact decreases with more Democratic control of the legislature. This finding suggest that vested interests most strongly shape the policies that most fundamentally threaten their organizational strength and that this effect is conditioned on the party in power; sympathetic allies represent the views of vested interests, lessening their effect.
The third essay argues that policymakers enact policies against the preferences of powerful vested interests when they delegate the costs associated with challenging those vested interests to advocacy groups. Using a fifty state analysis of teacher evaluation policymaking in 2010 and 2011 and case studies of teacher evaluation policymaking in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I find evidence that where advocacy groups provide information and capacity to policymaker allies, they can enact policy change despite the opposition of groups with greater organizational strength.
The final essay explores the role of foundations in policymaking. Foundations have historically behaved like background patrons, advancing their priorities by supporting other organizations rather than explicitly advocating for specific goals. However, a new generation of foundations has been more vocal and targeted in its grantmaking, pushing for particular education reforms. This study argues that new foundations behave like interest groups when they fund state departments of edu- cation. I examine grants to state education agencies from the largest 1,000 foundations, in addition to grants from the Gates and Wallace Foundations. I find that new, but not old, foundations tend to support states with auspicious political conditions for the enactment of education reform. As part of this “new philanthropy,” states that are poorer, have weaker teachers’ unions, and possess education reform groups are more likely to get funded and receive bigger grants.