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Privatization, Politics, and Urban Services: The Political Behavior of Charter Schools

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In this article we re‐examine the dualist theory of public and private sector providers of public services. While this theory holds that private sector providers exhibit a behavior substantively different from those of the public sector, i.e., they respond to external pressures with market‐oriented behavior instead of political behavior, we argue that these actors actually can and often do respond in a political manner. Furthermore, we argue that a political response is as likely to be exhibited by for‐profit providers, who should be the most free‐market oriented, as nonprofit organizations. We provide evidence for our proposition drawn from our study of the behavior of charter schools, market‐based providers of public education, and charter school advocates in the District of Columbia and find that when faced with numerous challenges, charters responded by lobbying government for assistance instead of competing in the market place. We conclude that the line of demarcation between the behavior of public and private sector providers is actually quite blurred and when faced with similar problems in the delivery of public services, both forms of providers will respond in a similar manner.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Columbia University 2: George Washington University

Publication date: February 1, 2003


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