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).
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.


  • Ludovico Feoli

    Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy & Research






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Upcoming Events

Latin American Studies Pre-Professional Alumni Speaker Series

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Each year in association with LAST 4000, the capstone seminar for graduating seniors in Latin American Studies, we invite recent graduates to speak about their current employment and the path that took them there—and to give advice to students soon to hit the job market. We invite all students to attend these informal discussions.

Speakers will speak at 11:00 a.m. for 45 minutes to an hour. Out of courtesy for the speaker and the class, we ask that guests arrive on time and stay for the entire presentation. Speakers will also speak in the 9:30 session, but will begin later. If you would like to attend this section or would like additional information, contact Edie Wolfe at ewolfe@tulane.eduu

Thursday, September 17
William Faulkner (2009), Director, Flux Research, Monitoring and Evaluation; formerly i2i Institute and Plan Políticas Públicas, São Paulo, Brazil. Flux is a consultancy focused on research, monitoring and evaluation that links those spearheading social change with the social sciences approaches, methods, and services required to evaluta operations and impact. After graduating in 2009, Will completed at masters in Latin American Studies at the Stone Center and went on to work as a researcher and evaluation coordinator with a similar organization in São Paulo, Brazil.

Tuesday, October 6
Katie Gray (2013) formerly Accounts Representative, Latin America and Brazil accounts, Intralox. Intralox is the world leader of modular plastic conveyor belts located in Hammond, Louisiana. Katie worked for several years as their tri-lingual Spanish and Portuguese speaking Account Representative, providing service support to Customers in Latin and South America.

Thursday, October 8
Bianca Falcon (2013) Chief of Staff, Republíca LLC. República, LLC is a privately held national advertising, branding, promotions, digital media and public relations company headquartered in Miami, Florida. República is a minority owned and certified company that ranks among the Top 50 U.S. Hispanic Agencies

Tuesday, October 20
Allison Bakamjian, (2010) Program Services Manager, Shanti Project’s Women’s Cancer Program, San Francisco; formerly Peace Corps Education Specialist, Santa Marta, Colombia. Prior to her Peace Corps volunteership, Allison worked with AmeriCorps*VISTA as the Volunteer Supervisor working with New Orleans Outreach and local public schools.

Thursday, October 22
Christine Sweeney (2010), Cybersecurity Policy and Program Analyst, Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President; formerly Program Officer, Latin America and the Caribbean, International Republican Institute. In her position with the IRI, Christine managed democracy and governance programs in Venezuela and Ecuador, helping to cultivate relationships with field-based and international implementing civil society partners and local political stakeholders to carry out the program objectives of promoting democratic transparency throughout the region

Tuesday, Nov. 17
Michael Murray (2010), Senior Consultant, FSG. FSG is a mission-driven consulting firm for leaders concerned with social change. Mike will discuss his work with the organization, including his research in Chile for a collaborative report on how local companies can increase competitiveness and profitability by helping to solve social problems such as poverty, education, and health.

Tuesday, Dec. 1 (To be confirmed)
Amanda Parker (2007), Project Manager & Trainer for Agriculture & Sustainable Land Use, World Wild Life Fund. Amanda works primarily in South America, specifically Paraguay managing and coordinating conservation projects in the Pantanal and Atlantic Forest Eco-Regions.

Thursday Dec. 3 (To be confirmed)
David Klauber (2008) Emergency Child Production Specialist, Save the Children. Most recently David worked as a volunteer program manager and grant-writer for the Unión de Agricultores Minifundistas, an association of organizations working on grass roots development de Guatemala in Guatemala City.. David will speak primarily about his experience with Save the Children in refugee camps on the Ethiopian-Somali border

Shango: Winter Music Festival

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Shango is a collaborative musical program featuring New Orleans’ own Bill Summers and Afro Cuban Master Dance Artist, Michelito Herrera Perez.

This event is free and open to the public. It is a collaboration between Xavier University’s African American and Diaspora Studies Program, XUTULAC and Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies. For more information please contact Dr. Sarah Clunis at or call: 504- 520-5020.

Symposium: Venezuelan Elections

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Photographic Exhibition "Precision"

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The Consulate of Mexico in New Orleans is proud to present a photographic exhibition, “Precision,” by Mexican artists Luis Arturo Chacon. There will be an opening reception on November 12th at 6 PM. For more information, visit the Consulate webpage.

Casa Borrega's 5th Annual Latin Jazz Fest

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Casa Borrega will host its Fifth Annual Latin Jazz Fest on Friday, December 11, 2015, from 7pm to 2am at the People’s Health New Orleans Jazz Market, 1426 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, a state of the art performance venue – ideally suited for this event. Deep roots connect the Crescent City with Latin America from Jelly Roll Morton’s “Latin Tinge” to newly formed musical entities that will be performing at this festival. Many longtime local musicians have made Latin Jazz a way of life and Casa Borrega celebrates this choice and artistry at its annual event. A new addition to the Fest is a multi-national ensemble of talented dancers who will perform throughout the evening.

7pm – Muevelo Tribute : Tito Puente & Celia Cruz
8:45pm – Javier Gutierrez & VIVAZ!
10:30pm – Alexis Guevara Afro Cuban Trio
12:15am – Latin Dance Party with DJ

  • Salsa dance demonstrations throughout *

Food by Casa Borrega & cocktails at the Bolden Bar
Tickets: $20 – available at
1/2 off for students with valid ID at the door

Hope to see you there! For further information please don’t hesitate to contact Linda Stone, 504.292.3705 or Hugo Montero, 210-392-9365 or email or visit

La Hora del Cuento: Bilingual Story Time at the Pebbles Center Uptown

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Join the Pebbles Center at the Children’s Resource Center branch of the New Orleans Public Library for bilingual story time.

Held the second Monday of every month at 5:15 PM, we will read a book and have a craft based on the book. Past books include Dear Primo, ‘Twas Nochebueno, and Call Me Tree/Llamame Arbol.

Story Hour Books
Oct. 12
Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh
Celebrate Halloween and Day of the Dead with this story time!

November 9 ­
María Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez
Learn about Peru and the Andean highlands through the eyes of Maria and her llama!

December 14
Martín de Porres by Gary Schmidt
Learn about this important Saint and his role in helping the poor!