This article presents a case study examining the demise of a high school Mandarin language program in a school district that appeared to offer an exceptionally friendly habitat for its survival. Though members of the school board majority who voted against funding the program offered rational explanations for their decision (e.g., insufficient fiscal and human resources), other case evidence revealed the influence of emerging political polarization. Using policy ecology theory and event ecology analytic lenses, evidence indicated the fundamental cause of program failure to be political climate change within the district ecosystem resulting from years of community conflict over a high school renovation proposal. The climate shift led to the election of a factionalized school board, whose first budgetary action was to cancel funding for the Mandarin program, despite its popularity and established position within district strategic planning. We argue that much present and prior theory on organizational action lacks the dynamic perspective necessary to account for the type of climate and policy changes described in the present case. Our study thus highlights the usefulness of ecological theory in understanding the threats posed to small yet valued policy species by emerging, politically toned policy streams, school board factionalism, and ideological voting patterns. We argue that this phenomenon poses particular risks for local public school governance during times of resource uncertainty.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Administration