EspañolA key education reform introduced by Chilean President Michele Bachelet is one step closer to enactment, and with it a tightening of controls over otherwise independent schools. On September 29, the Education Committee of Chile’s House of Representatives approved two reforms that would curtail student selection in the private sector for elementary education.
If passed by the Congress, elementary-school officials would no longer be able to dismiss students purely on academic grounds. Nor would they be able to select entrants in any way, aside from their ability to pay the fees. Ángel Soto, professor at the University of the Andes shared with the PanAm Post that the education-reform package is likely to go into law, but he says there is great discontent among citizens. That means representatives will be mindful of a political price to pay, and it is too early to predict the final results.
“It is true that the education-reform package is an emblematic proposal [of Bachelet administration], but the government must be careful with the criticism on the streets. The error in the Bachelet administration has been precisely their poor understanding of what people have requested.
Votando reforma educacional en Comisión de Educación pic.twitter.com/OsE6kmswVa
— felipekast (@felipekast) September 29, 2014
These proposed regulations are part of a sweeping education-reform package. Beyond restrictions on elementary-school exclusivity, the House committee has approved a ban on for-profit status in all educational organizations that receive government funding. The levers of regulation and state funding will, for example, challenge schools that participate in the prevailing voucher program.
The initial campaign for broader reform focused primarily on state schools, but the bills making their way into legislation target the private sector. The Alliance for Chile, a coalition of opposition parties, has expressed intense criticism towards the modifications to the General Education Law (LGE), and they plan to appeal it on constitutional grounds.
“This is the true face of the reform, where the autonomy and freedom of educational projects are severely limited,” affirms Representative Jaime Bellolio from the Popular Democratic Union (UDI).
El gobierno tiene q decidir si quiere mejorar la educación o controlar la educación. Esta s reforma q mira a la izquierda, no hacia adelante
— Jaime Bellolio (@jbellolio) September 28, 2014
Representative Felipe Kast of the Evópoli Party adds that “It would be better for the New Majority, Bachelet’s party, to obsess about upgrading public education than to attack private education. Months, in discussions, have passed, and not a word on [quality].”
Students’ Best Interests at Heart
Responding to the criticism, Education Minister Nicolás Eyzaguirre has explained that the purpose of these two new reforms is the protection of students against discrimination. He believes this is a problem during the selection process in private schools.
Correspondingly, the minister has denied accusations that these reforms are simply against profit in education. Eyzaguirre says the role of the government is to ensure that student rights are respected in private schools. Camila Vallejo, a representative of the Communist Party of Chile, has given her support for these reforms and added that there are more of this kind on the way. Apparently, they are under discussion in the House, but she did not specify the details.
The only specific reform rejected from the Bachelet proposal came from independent Representative Gabriel Boric. It sought a mandate that all schools be coeducational.
Education Reform for Equity?
Hernán Herrera, president of Independent Schools of Chile (CONACEP), has spoken out in a newspaper op-ed with the headline “Maximum Segregation,” published in La Tercera. His organization has united representatives of private and subsidized schools, as they express their fears that these reforms are a step on the road to destroying the nontraditional schools in Chile.
Equity includes the right of every student to access the same subsidies from the state, and not to be distinguished by the school they attend.
While the reigning New Majority Party has outright dismissed criticisms from the Alliance for Chile, Herrera says “Equity includes the right of every student to access the same subsidies from the state, and not to be distinguished by the school they attend.” To Herrera, the proposal at hand, which would the voucher program, constitutes a strangulation of private educational institutions.
New Majority representatives contend that there will be no differential financing in future, so long as students attend nonprofit schools. Herrera counters that not only is such a distinction immoral, it “might also be unconstitutional.… Resources have to be given to the students on the basis of their [economic] vulnerability, not their chosen educational institute.”