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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Honduran Environmental Rights Activist Speaks on Behalf of Her Mother Berta Cáceres

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The Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the Environmental Studies program, Tulane’s Office of Multicultural Affairs the Newcomb College Institute and the local organization, Amigos de Nuestra América are pleased to present a lecture by Olivia Marcela Zúñiga Cáceres, the daughter of Berta Cáceres the Honduran environmental activist assassinated in 2014. Zúñiga Cáceres will discuss her mother’s legacy and plans to continue work on environmental issues in Honduras particularly among indigenous people.

In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam. Cáceres grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. In 1993 she confounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods. Death threats to Cáceres continued until March 3, 2016 when she was killed by gunmen in her home. Her death sparked international outrage. Dutch development bank FMO and FinnFund have since suspended their involvement in the Agua Zarca project.

Free and open to the public. Presentation will be in Spanish with interpretation in English provided. For more information, call 504.865.5164.

Tulane Art History Works-in-Progress Colloquium

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Presenting an art history works-in-progress colloquium where two of the department’s Ph.D. students will be giving dry runs of upcoming conference talks.

  • Julia O’Keefe, Ph.D candidate in Art History and Latin American Studies will be outlining her talk- Manifesting the Sacred: Aztec Stone Boxes as Landscapes of Exchange
  • Jennifer Saracino, Ph.D candidate in Art History and Latin American studies will be outlining her talk- The Glyphic Landscape: Place Glyphs as Indicators of Changing Environmental Perceptions in the Mapu Uppsala.

Bate Papo! Speak Portuguese

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Bate Papo! Practice your Portuguese and enjoy some Brazilian treats. It’s Happy Hour em português! Start off your weekend conversando! This event is sponsored by TULASO and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Admission is free. For more information, please contact Jessica Glass at

Stone Center Undergraduate Showcase/Open House

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As a part of Tulane Homecoming and family weekend 2016. Explore the programs and activities offered through Tulane’s renowned Stone Center for Latin American Studies, including international and local service-learning, summer and semester abroad programs at Tulane’s Costa Rica campus and beyond and students’ post-Tulane careers. This event is sponsored by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies.
For more information, please contact Edie Wolfe, or call 504.865.5164.

MARI Brown Bag: Timothy Beach "The Re-Enchantment of Maya Wetland Fields from Earth and Sky"

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Dr. Timothy Beach, the Centennial Professor of Geography and Environment at the University of Texas at Austin, will present a talk on his recent research about Maya agricultural practices in a talk titled “The Re-Enchantment of Maya Wetland Fields from Earth and Sky.”

For more information and a full list of Brown Bag talks, visit the Brown Bag Website.

Trends in Latin American Literature: A Conversation with Jorge F. Hernandez & Yuri Herrera

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A Conversation with Jorge F. Hernandez & Yuri Herrera

Wednesday, November 9th from 6:00 pm-9:30 pm. Together, writers Jorge F. Hernandez and Yuri Herrera will explore past and present trends in Latin American literature. Their dialogue will take place at the Freeman Auditorium in the Woldenberg Art Center from 6:00 pm-7:15 pm. Please join us at the Latin American Library afterwards for a reception and an exhibit, from 7:30pm-9:30pm. This talk is part of a Big Read program for Sun, Stone, and Shadows, edited by Hernandez.

The Latin American Library of Tulane University is partnering this year with the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society in presenting a community-wide BIG READ, funded in part by the National Endowment of the Arts. The BIG READ program provides support for community groups to read and discuss one book together. This year’s focus book, Sun, Stone, and Shadows, is a collection of the best Mexican short fiction curated, edited, and translated by Mexican author Jorge F. Hernandez. One of Mexico’s leading journalists and author of both non-fiction and fiction, Hernandez currently lives in Madrid, where he writes for the leading newspaper in Spain, El Pais. Recent events have brought to the fore the importance of understanding our neighbors to the south and there is no better way to familiarize oneself with a nation’s people than through their literature. Sun, Stone, and Shadows serves as a window on the soul of the Mexican people, containing prized jewels of short fiction, work by such Mexican masters as the late Carlos Fuentes.

The evening will begin with a conversation between Hernandez and the young Mexican fiction writer Yuri Herrera, Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese. Herrera and his translator recently were awarded the highly prestigious Best Translated Book Award for Fiction. Herrera’s work explores ongoing societal issues surrounding Border culture and employs incredibly inventive language for his characters. His latest novels, both translated into English, are Signs Preceding the End of the World and The Transmigration of Bodies. Their dialogue will explore past and present trends in Latin American literature. The discussion will be followed by a reception at the library unveiling a new exhibition of rare treasures from the the Latin American Library’s collections of Mexican literature, art, and cultural artifacts. The reception will feature Mexican culinary treats and music.

This event is sponsored by the Latin American Library, the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society and the National Endowment of the Arts BIG READ program.

For more information visit the event webpage