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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Ludovico Feoli

    Executive Director - Center for Inter-American Policy & Research

BLOG AUTHORS & RECENT POSTS

LATEST SITE UPDATES

All Events

Upcoming Events

Finding Diverse Voices through the Américas Award

View Full Event Description

This K-12 educator workshop will focus on the diversity of literature recognized as part of the Américas Book Award. The workshop will feature the work of Alma Flor Ada who will discuss the use of her books for teaching about Cuba, as well as presentations by the 2016 Américas Award winners.

A $25 registration fee includes dinner and a book.

Schedule Coming Soon!

The workshop is sponsored by the Consortium for Latin American Studies Programs and Teaching for Change. The award is coordinated by Vanderbilt University Center for Latin American Studies and Tulane University Stone Center for Latin American Studies. Generous support is also provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University of Utah.

Stay in touch with the Americas Award on facebook or join the conversation at #AmericasAward16.

Day of the Dead Teacher Workshop at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

View Full Event Description

In collaboration with the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Stone Center presents the annual K-12 teacher workshop exploring the cultural and artistic elements of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. All participants will receive light refreshments, 2 free tickets to Ogden After Hours, teaching materials and CEUs. The workshop will focus on the Ogden Museum’s altar exhibition, celebrating the life of a New Orleans artist on view from Oct. 4 – Nov. 8.

Check out the event website for resources and other information about teaching Day of the Dead.

Celebración Latina 2016

View Full Event Description

Join us for our annual family festival as we celebrate 12 years of the festival! Please join us at the zoo to explore and celebrate the rich diversity of Latin America. Celebración Latina at the Zoo’s Capital One Stage and Field will offer a true taste of the Latin American culture with live music, children’s activities and authentic Latin cuisine prepared and sold by local restaurants. Local artisans will sell hand made crafts, and local social service, health and education organizations will offer wellness, education and social service information.

Check out these pictures of past celebrations!

Celebración Latina is presented by the Audubon Zoo and the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. Contributing sponsors include Pan-American Life Insurance Group, Marathon Petroleum Co., and Jefferson Financial Credit Union.

Celebración Latina is free with Zoo admission. No outside food or beverages please!

For more information please visit the Audubon website.

Entertainment Lineup TBA.

Exploring the 2016 US Elections

View Full Event Description

The US’s November elections are especially critical. The world’s power structures are undergoing dramatic changes, and so the internal political process of this world leader has even greater global consequences.

Looking beyond just the US’s foreign policy is key to understanding its actions. Over the next few months, the teaching programs at several Costa Rican institutions will focus on the following:

  • An analysis of succession of power within institutional structures.
  • The role of political parties (polarization).
  • The influence of changing demographics.
  • The geographic expression of social change.
  • The effect of the democratic process in the formulation and implementation of the US’s foreign policy towards Latin American in particular.

The University of Costa Rica, through its School of Political Science, and the Centro de Investigación y Estudios Políticos (CIEP), has joined forces with the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones y su Instituto de Formación y Estudios en Democracia (IFED), as well as with the University of Tulane, through its Center for Inter-American Policy and Research (CIPR), for a series of outreach activities during the second half of 2016. These activities will utilize the resources at these educational and research institutions to promote a better understanding of the electoral process in the US.

The results of this upcoming election will have repercussions for the world, particularly in Latin American and Costa Rica. A broader, deeper understanding of the current situation will be useful for both universities and public policy decision-makers.

Participating institutions are confident that a proper analysis of this political process will lead to improved understanding and cooperation between the two nations.

Schedule of Activities

August

  • Thursday, 8/18: Talk on the United States’ electoral system by Diego Brenes, IFED.

September
  • Thursday, 9/1: Discussion on demographics and electoral geography in the US with Constantino Urcuyo and Jesús Guzmán.
  • Thursday, 9/22: Talk on Politics and Elections: Celeste Lay, Phd. Tulane University.

October
  • Thursday, 10/13: Discussion on elections and external politics: Carlos Murillo, Phd. in government and public policy.
  • Thursday, 10/27: Talk by Jenny Lincoln Fullbright from the US Embassy.

November
  • Monday, 11/10: Round table. Analysis of election results with Constantino Urcuyo, Felipe Alpízar, Nuria Marín, and Fernando Zeledón as moderator.