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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
April 2020
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Book description

What explains the explosive growth of school vouchers in the last two decades? In America's Voucher Politics, Ursula Hackett shows that the voucher movement is rooted in America's foundational struggles over religion, race, and the role of government versus the private sector. Drawing upon original datasets, archival materials, and more than one hundred interviews, Hackett shows that policymakers and political advocates use strategic policy design and rhetoric to hide the role of the state when their policy goals become legally controversial. For over sixty years of voucher litigation, white supremacists, accommodationists, and individualists have deployed this strategy of attenuated governance in court. By learning from previous mistakes and anticipating downstream effects, policymakers can avoid painful defeats, gain a secure legal footing, and entrench their policy commitments despite the surging power of rivals. An ideal case study, education policy reflects multiple axes of conflict in American politics and demonstrates how policy learning unfolds over time.


Winner, 2021 Education Politics & Policy Best Book Award, American Political Science Association

Winner, 2020-2021 Richard Neustadt Book Prize, Political Studies Association


'This theoretically rich, empirically compelling analysis shows how conservatives have used devilishly clever, evolving policy designs and obfuscating rhetorical strategies to achieve their goal of limiting the role of government and breaking unions. A seminal contribution to American political development, public policy, public law, and education policy which I read with awe.'

Andrea Louise Campbell - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

'America’s Voucher Politics answers one of the most interesting policy puzzles of our time: how did school vouchers go from the fringes to the mainstream? As important as that question is, however, this book is about more than education policy. In telling the tale of school vouchers, Hackett illuminates policy-making more broadly, by shining a light on the many ways that policymakers make it hard for voters to see what government is doing. And, she does it effectively, as the book is a case study in how to write about public policy. The argument is compelling, the evidence convincing, and the prose engaging.'

David Campbell - University of Notre Dame

'Hackett's brilliant and timely analysis transforms the way we understand state policy and politics. Weaving together racial, religious, and civic foundational orders in US history, policy design, legal cases, and political rhetoric, the book reveals the complex, long-term strategies that political elites use to obfuscate public policy goals when they face public opposition or potential legal challenge. The result is a set of state policies that are not merely hidden, but constitute a form of doubly distanced attenuated governance. It is hard to imagine that state politics and policy research will ever be the same.'

Lisa L. Miller - Rutgers University

‘… Hackett’s book provides a roadmap for how to structure and carry out this type of work and encourages those of us who study the hidden welfare state to think more deeply about what it means that the state is hidden and why.’

Chloe N. Thurston Source: American Politics

‘For readers well informed about the history of voucher politics in US education, this volume will add additional layers of analysis and understanding. Those new to the debate will find this book offers a meaningful, in-depth overview along with well-reasoned arguments about how and why the present situation has come to be and ways to adjust the system … Highly recommended.’

W. Miller Source: Choice

‘America's Voucher Politics: How Elites Learned to Hide the State is an extraordinary study offering research based and insightful analysis of the history and contemporary employment of school vouchers and their selective education purposes, as well as their political implications … highly recommended as a unique and critically important contribution to our on-going national discussion of school vouchers.’

Source: The Midwest Book Review; Library Bookwatch

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