Subsided education: a burden for the public school system?

Current austerity measures and economic reforms in Spain include a thorough reform of the education system. The way the reform is thought would not address the problems of the education system in Spain most of which come from the existence of a semi-private state-subsided education that acts as short of burden for the public school system.

When Spain turned to democracy one of the chief social goals was to solve the perceived injustices of the previous regime. The extension of education to all sectors of society was an important way to achieve that. However, the authorities found themselves with a reduced number of public schools and an increasing population. During the Francoist regime the number of schools built was minimum. The scarcity of public schools and the impossibility to build high numbers required a different approach. Once democracy was restored the solution was to create a sistema concertado. Through this system existing private schools, many of which were in the hands of religious orders, would provide state subsided education to the general public.

This was an optimal solution both for school owners and the state. The state could provide education for “every one” and the school owners would retain their ownership and control. Even if national curricula were established, schools, which were part of this sistema concertado, still retained discretion on admission of students as well as on the policies regarding staff employment. Education in these schools was subsided, but schools soon started to charge fees for other concepts such as for instance and additional one hour of lecture a day, sports, etc. This, together with the right of schools to choose which students to admit, effectively left some students from particular backgrounds excluded. The result was that Spain had created a two-strands academic system effectively subsided by the state.

Currently, the number of children of immigrant and lower class families is higher in state schools than in school which function under the sistema concertado. There is an increasing perception that quality of education has lowered in state schools which leads families to turn to non-state schools for the education of their children, even in those families that ideologically would be strongly willing to support a public education system.

A reform of the education system should critically re-assess the Spanish goal of providing education “for every one” by looking at the state of the current Spanish school system. In particular, the assessment should focus on the extent to which the sistema concertado creates a burden for the public school system and its implications. Considering that taxpayers money pay for up to 59% of the benefits of the private education in Spain, the fundamental question we should be asking is: Is it fair to subsidise another education system at the expense of the public system?

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