Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

School Vouchers: What Louisiana can Learn from Chile

By Ludovico Feoli

In light of Governor Jindal’s proposal to vastly expand Louisiana’s school voucher system it might be useful to consider the track record of similar programs elsewhere. To that effect, Chile’s experience might be informative. Starting in the 1980s that country implemented the world’s farthest reaching neoliberal reform of education. The Pinochet regime intended to revolutionize vast spheres of Chilean society by replacing professional and bureaucratic organization with market forces. In a nutshell, the logic behind educational choice was that the freedom of voucher-bearing parents to select schools would create competitive forces, generating incentives for schools to improve their performance, reduce their costs, and introduce greater innovation. Did it work?

While the evidence is complex, analysts suggest that “The Chilean reforms of the 1980s were not practicable, did not turn education upside down, and did not dramatically improve school performance” (Gauri 1998, 103). The reforms did not reduce inequalities in education: most poor children attend public schools, which have lower performance than private schools and are more poorly funded, due to their inability to charge tuition or surcharges, both of which are open to their private counterparts (Levin 2011, 74; Economist 2011). The reforms did not improve performance either. While standardized scores have improved in Chile over time, it is more likely to have been as a result of improvement efforts spearheaded by the Ministry of Education, not market forces. Scores are better in Chile than they are in other Latin American countries, but they are well below the OECD average and show high variability relative to student background. In fact, what vouchers do seem to have accomplished is a redistribution of pupils with better-educated parents from public to private schools. And while private subsidized schools seem to have lower costs than the public schools, this may be due to their free riding on the public education system—by not taking special needs students, and by hiring teachers already employed in nearby public schools as part-time faculty (Carnoy 1998). The prolonged student protests that have paralyzed the country in past months are testament to a widespread discontent with the educational system.

While it is clear that there are many institutional and even cultural differences between the education systems in the United States and Chile, these results should at the very least call for caution. As Gauri (1998) suggests, there are several lessons that can be drawn from this experience for a broader context. First, it is illusory to believe that markets will replace bureaucrats. To be sure, bureaucracies tend towards hypertrophy and can be paragons of inefficiency. But markets are also plagued by imperfections, like asymmetries of information, which allow parents that are better informed about school quality and performance, usually the more affluent, to reap greater rewards from the voucher system. Leveling the playing field by evaluating and disseminating educational achievement, and keeping schools financially accountable, requires increased regulation and state intervention. This points to an ironic paradox inherent in such market liberalizing reforms.

Second, markets are not immune to politics. If vouchers lead students away from existent public schools their remaining constituents—teachers, parents, staff, students, neighbors—will resist closures, creating political unrest and impeding cost reductions. Moreover, the complexity of educational reform is such that policies cannot be imposed by fiat. Not even the Pinochet regime could override longstanding traditions tied to the influence of teachers. There is no universal model that fits the needs of every community. Parents differ in their priorities and they are often willing to trade other aspects, like safety, convenience, day care, and instruction in religious or moral codes, for some degree of academic achievement or educational innovation (Gauri 1998, 105). Deliberation and consensus building are crucial for the success of educational policy.

While the Louisiana voucher expansion has been presented as a ticket for children to escape from failing public schools, the Chilean precedent warns against expecting this to emerge solely from market forces. Unfortunately, this expectation seems to be at the heart of the proposal given its broad eligibility requirements for students and its lax eligibility requirements for schools. Under the proposed rules students in more than 70% of Louisiana’s schools (55% of the public school students) would be eligible for vouchers (BGR 2012). At the same time, virtually all private schools meeting minimal requirements for operation could accept them. What is to prevent a student from entering a worse private school than the public one she is exiting? In the absence of regulations the assumption must be that the demand for quality education will draw parents to the best performing schools. Yet, this in turn assumes the existence of perfect information—available, intelligible, and unambiguous—which the new legislation makes no effort to impose. As the case of Chile exemplifies, an active administration is inevitable: to assure vouchers go only to those students who need them; to control that only highly qualified private schools can accept those students; to measure educational achievement in schools and to make the results widely available to parents; and to keep schools accountable for their educational and financial results over time.

The Chilean case, where tuition vouchers have been more extensively tried than anywhere, shows that private schools are not necessarily better than public ones, and that competition between public and private schools will not necessarily raise the quality of education or reduce its costs. “For those concerned with the quality and cost of education in the United States, the answers lie elsewhere” (Carnoy 1998).
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BGR. Making Choice Right: Can Private School Vouchers Live Up to Their Promises? (March 2012).
Carnoy, Martin. “Do Vouchers Improve Education?” Dollars & Sense, no. 216 (1998): 24-27.
Gauri, Varun. School Choice in Chile: Two Decades of Educational Reform. Pitt Latin American Series. Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.
Levin, Ben. “Chile, Latin America, and Inequality in Education.” Phi Delta Kappan 93, no. 2 (2011): 74-75.
“We Want the World; Education in Chile.” The Economist 400, no. 8746 (2011): 36.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ludovico Feoli

    Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy & Research

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Screening of The Path of Stone Soup

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Movie night at Vaughan’s
Tuesday, September 16 at 7:00 Pm. 4229 Daughine. $10 admission.

Noon-Time Talk on Behind Closed Doors, Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898 with Lucia Abramovic

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Join Lucia Abramovich, NOMA’s curatorial fellow for Spanish colonial art for a Noontime Talk on the exhibition Behind Closed Doors, Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898.

Noontime Talks are brief, informative discussions on exhibitions and installations in NOMA’s galleries. Wednesdays are free admission days for Louisiana residents. Please visit the NOMA website for more information.

Guantánamo Post-9/11: Human Rights & Constitutional Law in Modern America

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Guantánamo Post-9/11: Human Rights & Constitutional Law in Modern America

Guest speakers:
Jess Bravin: Wall Street Journal, author of Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantánamo Bay
Denny Leboeuf: ACLU, Tulane JD
Chaplain James Yee: Former U.S. Army Chaplain, author of For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire

The Guantánamo Public Memory Project is a traveling exhibit that examines the history of the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from multiple perspectives and raises questions about U.S.-Cuban relations, civil liberties, national security, and public memory in the past, present, and future. The guest speakers will be giving a talk on the titled event. All are welcome to attend.

For more information about the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, visit http://gitmomemory.org.

Alexey Martí & Urban Minds Latin Jazz Concert

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The CubaNOLA Arts Collective Presents- Alexey Martí & Urban Minds as a part of this month’s Latin Jazz concert series.

Alexey Martí is a powerful percussionist from Havana, Cuba. He is at the forefront of the new Latin music scene in New Orleans, tirelessly exploring new musical terrain and incorporating it back into his own rich musical roots. Alexey founded his group, Urban Minds, a little over a year ago, to explore all of the music that he loves including jazz, funk, Afro-Cuban folklore, salsa, son, rumba, and New Orleans rhythms.

Alexey began performing in Afro-Cuban religious ceremonies at the age of 7. At the age of 16 he joined the world renowned Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble "Diákara", under the leadership of the legendary singer and drummer Oscar Valdés. In Havana, he performed with many great Cuban jazz and Afro-Cuban ensembles. He moved to New Orleans 5 years ago and has adopted New Orleans as his new homeland. Since moving here, Alexey has been studying in the UNO Jazz Studies program and has performed with many New Orleans greats including Los Hombres Calientes, Davell Crawford, Shannon Powell, David Torkanowsky, and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Prime Example Jazz Club, on the corner of N. Broad Street and St. Bernard Avenue, has been under the proprietorship of Julius Kimbrough Sr. since 2000. In 2007, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Kimbrough decided that live jazz music needed to be presented for Seventh Ward neighborhood residents working hard to rebuild their lives, the neighborhood and the community. In 2011 Mr. Kimbrough partnered with DJ Soul Sister and WWOZ 90.7 FM to start the Thursday Nights Swingin' weekly jazz series. He is now expanding the scope of Thursday Nights Swingin', in partnership with The CubaNOLA Arts Collective, to include Latin jazz on the third Thursday of every month. This new monthly Lazz jazz series is a tribute to historical and present day contributions of Latino musicians and residents to every day life and art in New Orleans, including the birth and evolution of jazz music itself.

Alexey Martí & Urban Minds will surprise you with their seamless blends of New Orleans and Afro-Cuban music. Let Alexey make you feel at home at the Prime Example on Thursday, September 18 while he and the band move you and groove you in new, exciting and familiar ways.

Tres Vidas: The Core Ensemble

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Tres Vidas: A chamber music theatre work for singing actress and trio (cello, piano and percussion) based on the lives of three legendary Latin American Women: Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, Salvadoran peasant activist Rufina Amaya and Argentinean poet Alfonsina Storni. The show features a wide stylistic range of music, including popular and folk songs of Mexico, El Salvador and Argentina, vocal and instrumental tangos by Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla and new music written for the Core Ensemble by Osvaldo Golijov, Orlando Garcia, Pablo Ortiz and Manuel DeMurga. Featuring Cristina Isabel Lucas as Frida Khalo, Rufina Amaya and Alfonsina Sorni.

Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 7 p.m. Administration Auditorium Xavier University of Louisiana Free and open to the public Call (504) 520-5115 or email esrousse@xula.edu for more info

MARI Brown Bag: Francisco Estrada-Belli "New Revelations on the Holmul Frieze and the Rise of the 'Kingdom of the North'"

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Dr. Francisco Estrada-Belli, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department, will present new findings about his recent excavations at the Classic Maya site of Holmul, Guatemala in a talk titled “New Revelations on the Holmul Frieze and the Rise of the ‘Kingdom of the North.’”

M.A.R.I.'s Brown Bag talk series is meant to provide a venue for students and faculty focusing on topics related to Mesoamerica to discuss their latest research in an informal and friendly setting. If you are interested in presenting, please email Marcello Canuto (mcanuto@tulane.edu) for more information. For the current speaker list of this talk series, please click here.

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