Supporting Public Schools: Are Vouchers a Panacea or Problematic? Pt. IV

Written in collaboration with Dr. Jaime Portales

Guiding question for today’s post on the universal implementation of vouchers:

  • Do they buttress or deconstruct the public school system?

In the universal implementation of vouchers Chile, evidence shows that the competition for student enrollment throughout the country has been dominated by private-voucher schools at the expense of public schools. Between 2000 and 2009, the enrollment of public schools dramatically decreased at the national level, dropping from 55% to 42%. In comparison, private-voucher schools have expanded, increasing from 36% to 51%. Additionally, at the national level, Chilean municipalities have lost, on average, 22% of public school enrollment, while private-voucher school enrollment has increased by an average of 38% (Portales, 2012).

Figures for the Santiago Metropolitan Area are even more problematic. Between 2000 and 2009, the enrollment of public schools decreased in the Metro Area, dropping from 39.8% to 30.8%. In comparison, private voucher schools have expanded, increasing from 46.6% to 58.5%, with private-paid enrollment decreasing from 13.4% to 10.6%. In addition, municipalities have lost, on average, 25% of public school enrollment, while their private-voucher school enrollment has increased by an average of 37% (Portales, 2012).

What do these percentages illustrate? In general, they indicate that the competitive effects of vouchers over student retention and attraction in both Santiago and the whole country have been harmful for public-municipal schools and advantageous for private-vouchers schools. Why has this been the case? First, private-voucher schools have increasingly gained students because of the opening and expansion of new schools. Across the nation, the number of private-voucher schools has expanded from 2,425 to 3,343 between 1990 and 2007. By contrast, the number of public-municipal schools has decreased from 6,000 to 5,572 (Portales, 2012).

In Chile, private-voucher schools in general are now perceived as having a better status than their public-municipal counterparts within the voucher system. Only a minority of public schools and districts have been able to confront and overcome this perception. How do they compete? By implementing similar creaming measures as those utilized by private-voucher schools: selecting the best students from the pool of applicants, investing on school infrastructure and appearance, and managing the number of students enrolled with behavioral problems and/or by expelling students en-masse (Portales, 2012). In other words, public schools and public school districts are generally able to compete for students with private-voucher schools when they are in a position to use similar “competitive” procedures or mechanisms (Portales, 2012).

In conclusion, over the past few days, Cloaking Inequity has demonstrated from the research literature that vouchers don’t deliver on the equity and achievement promises of their proponents. However, as the Chile case demonstrates, vouchers implemented on a large-scale can deliver on privatization desires and diminish the public school system.

Tomorrow, Cloaking Inequity will examine  challenges to the separation between church and state fomented by vouchers.

For references, go here.

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Categories: Accountability, African Americans, Latina/os, School Finance, Vouchers

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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