Ideology, strategic action fields, and the school choice agenda in Georgia, 1993-2017
Atkinson, Jamie Craig
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In this dissertation study, the author examines the complex strategic ideological fields and mechanisms impacting educational policy, education reform, and the politics of education in the State of Georgia from 1993 to 2017. Since 1993, the confluence of neoliberal and neoconservative actors have accelerated the creation and growth of charter schools in Georgia. Those efforts by Rightist actors culminated in the attempt of Governor Nathan Deal and the Georgia General Assembly to establish a state-wide charter district called the Opportunity School District. Though the Opportunity School District failed at the ballot, its failure has not impeded the efforts of Rightist actors to further school choice legislation. This study not only examines the strategic action fields and reform coalitions operating within the state to reform education, but also examines the historical and socio-political contexts of educational reform in Georgia. The author explores the shifting ideological dynamics of the Georgia General Assembly and Governor’s Office, and how state legislators have embraced neoliberal and neoconservative education reform initiatives utilizing strategic action field theory to explain educational reform initiatives. Within Georgia, there are individuals, groups, and organizations working within ideological networks and coalitions to steer policy and reform efforts. These socio-political strategic networks, operating at the meso-level, form fields of interdisciplinary and interdependent coalitions. Field theory helps explain social-political actions linked to the creation of political coalitions and the possible emergence of relatively new field identities. The theoretical and methodological challenges are how one determines the actors, agents, and governance units within the field. The actors and agents are those whose efforts are largely focused on the school choice agenda in Georgia. The author examines the efforts by Governor Nathan Deal and the Georgia General Assembly to establish a state-wide charter-based Opportunity School District as well as the role of conservative think-tanks, venture-philanthropy, religious organizations, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), operating within strategic action fields to influence the politics of education and educational policy in the state. This study focuses on the origins of charter legislation and how multiple groups continue to push for school choice.