Policy entrepreneurs: catalysts for policy innovation
King, Paula J.
Roberts, Nancy C.
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In Minnesota, Gov. Rudy Perpich and an ad hoc group of eight policy entrepreneurs - advocates of innovation policy ideas - altered the contours of the educational policy debate. Policymakers in others states responses to the alarm bells sounded by the National Commission on Excellence in Education's 1983 report A Nation at Risk with curriculum reform (42 states), stiffer high school graduation requirements (44 states), statewide testing (35 states), tougher teaching certification standards (42 states) and increased funds for professional development for teachers (25 states). In contrast, the policy entrepreneurs in Minnesota sought a more comprehensive response by redirecting the discussion of reform to structural flaws and bureaucratic inertia in the state's education system. Because of these policy entrepreneurs, Minnesota - instead of focusing on piecemeal education reforms - debated whether the whole system of education needed to be redesigned or restructured. This article describes this education policy initiative, tracing it from conception through legislative action. It examines this policy innovation to find out how the policy entrepreneurs contributed to and affected the policy process. For our research on policy entrepreneurs, we interviewed 65 people from 1984 to 19896. Among the people interviewed were the eight policy entrepreneurs, members of the governor's staff, representatives of the Minnesota Department of Education, education insiders, legislative staff members and legislators. The interviews were confidential and quotes are from these interviews. We conclude, based on our extensive interviews of participants in the decision-making process, that the policy entrepreneurs performed three functions that contributed greatly to enactment of education policy innovations: they generated ideas (the intellectual function), they devised a strategy to get their ideas enacted into law (the strategic function) and they led a political assault on decisionmakers (the activist function). The policy entrepreneurs were not content with "tinkering around the edges" and making incremental change, as they called the standards solutions put forth in most educational policy circles. They sought to develop an educational system based on new premises. They wanted schools to be responsive to consumer demand by establishing a system that allowed students to choose their schools. The policy entrepreneurs' prescription for education reform and excellence engendered an intense negative response from groups with a strong, direct interest in education policy, including the Minnesota Educational Association, the Minnesota Federation of Teachers, the Minnesota School Boards Association, and the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. Despite the opposition of these powerful groups, the entrepreneurs got their controversial proposals on the governor's policy agenda, and they helped him fight for the reforms in the state legislature. This article is organized in three parts. The first part briefly describes the term "policy entrepreneur." The second part details the creation, development and legislative consideration of the education policy innovation. the third part presents observations and conclusions about the participation of the policy entrepreneurs in the policy innovation process.
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