Lessons in Policy Analysis

Article excerpt

Recently the budget debate in Congress has pushed emerging legislation to the background. And while the budget battle may be waged in Washington, D.C., it is watched by the entire nation This article will provide another opportunity-particularly for special needs educators-to observe the differences between the groups attempting to influence policy through fiscal action. By looking beyond the skirmishes, we can learn to recognize the critical messages that are conveyed by the political posturing. Educators can learn to consider the accumulating policy action around education and youth employment in light of the budget debate.

Policy trends

Several trends underlie recent policy action. Frontrunners are the devolving federal role, an evolving state and local role, a diminishing bureaucracy and increased deregulation and regulating flexibility. The central ideas of each have persisted for the last 20 years. But some important differences include the degree to which opposing groups limit or restrict certain actions and how each group makes use of policy trends in shaping overall strategies.

Policy strategies

Trends strategically are shaped by how policymakers use their resources. Most policy action follows four basic strategies-mandates, inducements, capacitybuilding and system-change. (This is discussed further in Educational Evaluations and Policy Analysis.) Using these basic strategies, policymakers accelerate or inhibit policy trends.

Policymakers craft plans presented in legislation by using policy instruments. Once passed into law, the policy action plans are sustained or modified through budget authorization and appropriation.

Policy action plans

A reflective educator can identify policy trend and policy strategies when analyzing legislation. Recent youth employment legislation provides examples of the interaction of trends and strategies. Consider the School-To-Work Opportunities Act.

STW legislation is driven by regulatory flexibility and state and location decision-making. To achieve goals, policymakers have crafted a federal statute that draws heavily on system change and inducements. In the STW initiative, system change is characterized by the joint efforts of education and labor under the leadership of the governor. Waiver provisions also figure prominently in the system change strategy. Policymakers promote a collaborative approach to the development of the three-component model by offering implementation grants to those states presenting competitive plans that meet specified criteria.

The most recent youth employment legislation, H.B. 1617 (CAREERS) and S. 143 (Workforce Development Act), provide additional examples. An analysis of these two proposals shows the recurrence of specific policy trends. Consolidation of programs and reduction of bureaucracy are prominent under both plans. The strong federal role is replaced by increased state authority and broad fiscal and regulatory flexibility. In each proposal, system change is the dominant policy instrument and authority is vested in the state.

The proposals differ in the extent to which they impose limits on the system change process. …