Want to Profit from Education? Not on Bachelet’s Socialist Dime

EspañolThe president of Chile signed a bill on Monday morning, during a ceremony at La Moneda Palace, to launch the first of several projects geared toward education reform. The initiative lays out three key objectives: establish tuition-free education, end profits in education, and do away with school selection and admission exams.

The plan goes to Congress on Tuesday and is one of three major reform proposals the president expects to achieve, along with tax reform and a new constitution. It is also one of the 50 proposals Michelle Bachelet has promised to have approved within her first 100 days in office.

According to the ANSA news agency, the government promoted the event to specialists in the field of education as a way to “end profit and discrimination, establish free education, and create a new system of preschool education.”

Minister of Education Nicolás Eyzaguirre said the 50-page reform bill seeks to change to current paradigm in education. The change to taxpayer-funded education, he asserts, will give power back to local families and have them choose schools for their children, and not the other way around.

Estudiantes marchando en 2011 pidiendo el fin del lucro en la educación
Students march in 2011, calling for an end to profits in education. Source: Wikimedia.

According to La Tercera, the objective of the proposal is to remove the “co-payment” families are currently required to contribute, along with the initial payment from the government, and replace it with a state subsidy.

If the reform is approved, the 3,470 organizations that currently profit in the education system will have to be converted into nonprofit foundations. The goal is to stop providing public funds to facilities that generate profits.

These entities will have up to two years to convert their organizations to nonprofit or request the government purchase their facilities over a potential 12 year period.

In order to avoid mass school closures once the new policy is enacted, Bachelet plants to create an agency that will be responsible for purchasing schools that are left without anyone interested in taking them over.

The admission process for each school will also be changed. Schools will no longer be allowed to administer exams or interviews prior to admission, so that parents are able to choose a school for their child, rather than the school choosing each student.

The proposal also prohibits the expulsion of any student from the first to fourth grade and allows each student to repeat a school year twice. School administrators will also no longer be permitted to request previous performance records from new students.

The reform seeks to change how education is viewed under the law, and will categorize education as a social right. It aims to guarantee the public the right to demand, among other things, a quality education.

Education reform has long since been the focus of social movements, especially during the previous administration of President Sebastián Piñera. High school and college students alike have taken to the streets and advocated for an end to private schools and free, universal education at all levels.

Just four days ago, the Chamber of Deputies approved the tax reform that will make financing this transformation in education possible.

Is Education a Right?

Axel Kaiser, attorney and director for the Chilean Liberty for Progress foundation, told the PanAm Post that, “higher education should be paid for by each student. There may be scholarships, as there always are, for talented students and a system of credits for convenient rates for others.”

He also argued that “education is an economic good, even if not consumed, because we pay for its value.” Kaiser previously wrote an opinion column in El Mercurio titled, “Education is Not a Right.”

The article generated considerable controversy in the Chilean media, and Kaiser was invited to discuss the issue on various television programs.

“As Bastiat warned, politicians cannot deliver anything to some people that it has not been taken from others, and always keeping a portion of what is distributed for themselves. Since these needs are unlimited, along with the wishes of politicians to remain in power, and resources are scarce, then the satisfaction of ‘social rights’ can only lead to spiral of spending, taxes, and debt. The inevitable outcome is crisis for economic and democratic system,” he wrote.

Unlike Kaiser, Fernando Atria, a member of the Bachelet’s New Majority committee to draft the new constitution, said that when it comes to social rights, resources cannot be allocated through the market.

“Today, one cannot understand the debate over education without understanding the debate over social rights. And I think that one cannot understand social rights without linking them a strong notion of citizenship,” said Atria.

The president of the Confederation of Students of Chile (FECh), Melissa Sepulveda, said the reforms do not go far enough and address all the demands raised by the social movement.

“The reform does not satisfy its primary goal to eliminate profit in education,” stated Sepulveda. The student organizer plans to organize a march on May 21 to demand more significant changes in education.

Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.

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