Introduction Within comparative political analysis it is often presumed that liberal ideology strongly embeds the American nation and biases the political culture of the country against large government, towards personal freedom and individual choice. Scandinavians, on the other hand, are supposed to be more egalitarian and to hold collectivist values that translate into a positive vision of a dominating state that regulates significant parts of peoples’ lives (Steinmo and Watts 1995: 331; Rothstein 1998; Moe 2001: 15). From this perspective, two decades of institutional reforms in primary school education in the United States and Sweden pose an intriguing puzzle. For generations, both countries have operated universal public school systems according to which all citizens have the right to attain free and compulsory education. In the beginning of the 1980s, educational reform movements began, however, to suggest changes in this traditional form of primary education, and the issue of school choice in general and school vouchers in particular caused harsh conflicts in the following two decades (Klitgaard 2007b). Moving from a centralized way of governance to a market-like model, school vouchers represent a financial arrangement in which students are provided with a tuition certificate that can be used to attend public or private schools participating in the program (NCSPE 2003). Vouchers concentrate, so to speak, the idea of a new mix between public and private, or state and market, embraced by dominant public sector reform prescriptions produced by, for example, the OECD since the 1980s (Premfors 1998; Pollit and Bouckeart 2004). Vouchers guarantee education, but they do not determine where to go to school. This decision remains at the individual level, so that school choice is privatized, while the educational service can be provided by either public agencies or private entrepreneurs. School vouchers were debated regularly in the American Congress and during all presidential election campaigns since the early 1980s, but have developed only in a sporadic fashion, meaning that some limited voucher programs are established in a few states and cities while a nation-wide program on several occasions has been rejected (Moe 2001). In contrast to the United States, Sweden however adopted national and universal public school vouchers in the beginning

of the 1990s. Today the Swedish school system therefore allows for extended competition and school choice between public and private providers of basic education (Blomqvist and Rothstein 2000; Blomqvist 2004). A central Swedish welfare policy, historically aimed at increasing social and economic equality in the Swedish society (Rothstein 1996), is in other words transformed into a policy in which the market forces play a significant role in matters of governance and regulation. In the United States, on the other hand, it has been very difficult to advance a policy that appears as tailor-made to the dominant political culture of the country. The intention of this chapter is to explain why the output from the politics of school vouchers in the United States and Sweden varies to this extent. Why was a universal voucher-program established nation-wide in Sweden, while successful implementation of vouchers in the United States is limited to a few states and cities? Answering these questions is of general interest for political science, as the puzzle pushes a couple of well-established theories about policy determinants to their limits. There is, for example, a lack of systematic correlation between (non-)adoption of school vouchers and variables as partisan politics and pathdependency in the policy field. The argument of this chapter is that these different developments are a result of the different institutional settings in which the politics of vouchers unfolded. A multitude of institutional veto-opportunities in American policy-making constrained the federal government from realizing its preferences, while very few veto-points provided Swedish governments with a formidable degree of independent policy capacity (Weaver and Rockman 1993). Federal US governments are constrained by presidentialism, bicameralism and federalism, while federalism at the same time facilitates policy innovations at a lower level of government (Martin 2008). The present contribution is arranged as a matched comparison between a positive and a negative case, which is a strategy of comparative analysis allowing for generalization from even small-n structured comparisons (Mahoney and Goertz 2004: 653). The first section discusses shortly some alternative explanations to understand the output from school policy-making. The second part elaborates further on the veto-point argument, while the third section consists of a comparative study of school policy-making in the United States and Sweden since the 1980s. The fourth and final section highlights the conclusions and discusses the potential of generalizing broadly to the process of restructuring principles of governance in welfare service provision.