Why Arizona Embarked on School Reform (and Nevada Did Not)
STEPHANIE TIMMONS-BROWN AND FREDERICK HESS
In 1994 the Arizona state legislature passed the nation's most ambitious charter school law. The law's liberal provisions for charter approval, together with aggressive implementation by two activist state boards and by revenue-seeking local districts, created a burgeoning charter school sector. During the same time period, Nevada, a neighboring state with relatively similar educational performance and socioeconomic characteristics, responded differently to concerns about educational performance. Why?
We believe the Arizona-Nevada comparison illustrates factors shaping the adoption and non-adoption of charter schooling. The comparative state analysis suggests that although student performance may have played some role, party and interest group dynamics were key in explaining the different responses of the two states. In Nevada, strong teachers' unions and the close partisan balance in the state legislature kept strong charter laws off the agenda. In contrast, Republican dominance and weak unions in Arizona made a strong charter law possible, and nearly led to the adoption of a voucher scheme.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Arizona parents and legislators expressed increasing concern about the mediocre performance of the state's students. The Arizona Republic ( 1994) editorialized on several occasions about the need to improve state schooling, opining, for example: "Many