Public funding in private education: international lessons for Chile's education system
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Public funding in private education: international lessons for Chile's education system

Chile’s education system is the only one that operates based on market logic, experts revealed in a new report from the Center for Advanced Research in Education at the University of Chile (CIAE).

At the request of the Inter-American Development Bank, researchers Carolina Trivelli and Cristián Bellei analyzed the education systems of seven countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States, Colombia, Sweden, England and Canada – looking for lessons that could apply to Chile.

The report, entitled Public support to private schools: Case studies and lessons for Chile (link in Spanish), found that although some countries allow private activity in education, most of their systems are based on a public education tradition.

In all cases, schools are not allowed to charge families for tuition, to discriminate or to make a profit – with the exception of Sweden, where for-profit schools are now the majority in the subsidized private sectors. However, even those schools cannot charge families or select their pupils. Instead, a local authority decides which schools students attend based on where they live. In countries where private schools are financed by vouchers, those schools must comply with the majority of public school rules.

In an interview with the University of Chile, researcher Bellei said Chile’s main distinguishing characteristic is that it is the only country with an educational system based on market logic, which dates back to the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990).

The researchers observed differences in the way other countries own and manage their educational buildings and infrastructure – a main cause for concern in Chile. In the other countries, Bellei said, infrastructure was always public and the state maintained responsibility in the schools it had invested in.

“The managing entity [of the infrastructure] may sometimes change, but there is no change in the nature of the school itself, which is public property, sometimes managed by private institutions, but always guaranteeing continuity in the service it provides,” Bellei said.

Regarding educational debates in Chile, he said it is crucial to change the logic behind the current system and strengthen the public sector.

“Controlling the most aggressive elements of the market, ones that indirectly hurt public education, is important too, and this means controlling excessive growth of private education and making the system more equitable,” he said.

Among the report’s recommendations: that state support to private school should be directed exclusively toward improving quality and access to education; that a financially equitable treatment of public and private schools requires private providers to assume all responsibilities and obligations placed on public education; and that subsidized schools must be free and accessible for all families, rather than allowed to maintain discriminatory and exclusionary practices.

The report made additional recommendations on the issues of standardized testing, teacher contracts, and regulation of subsidies and funding available to private schools.

Additional reporting from Héctor Areyuna