For more than 80 years, independent schools have been the preferred choice of parents in the Netherlands, with the number of schools and student enrollment outpacing the public school sector by a large percentage.
…This struggle ended with an amendment to the constitution, passed in 1917, that guaranteed equal funding for public and independent schools. Within a few years, close to 70% of students were attending independent schools. The Dutch education system had changed from a state-organized monopoly into a system that gave priority to parental choice and freedom of education. It continues to flourish today.
Sweden is only following in the footsteps of the successful experience of Denmark and the Netherlands. For more background, here’s a five-page report on the Swedish revolution from the Canadian think tank Frontier Centre for Public Policy:
Executive Summary More than a decade ago, Sweden reversed its long history of centralized school administration and adopted a school voucher program.
- Allowing parents a choice of schools rapidly expanded the number of independent schools.
- Schools that receive vouchers must except students regardless of ability or background, and must not charge tuition beyond the value of the voucher.
- Independent schools may not consider academic ability as a standard of admission.
- Non-state schools now house more than ten percent of school-age children; most are located in large cities, and few have opened in rural areas, although that is changing.
- Independent schools typically specialize in certain styles of pedagogy; they tend to be smaller in size than municipal schools.
- The growth of private schools has not harmed municipal schools; in fact, they have improved their performance in response to competition for students.
- Independent schools have increased the level of socio-economic diversity, as students from poor neighbourhoods can now attend schools located in more affluent areas.
- The school voucher system has garnered wide public and political acceptance.
Here’s a four-page report on the Netherlands school choice system, which provides 100% funding of private/independent schools.
- Parents in the Netherlands enjoy a nation-wide system of free choice between public or independent schools, with no cachment areas.
- Non-profit organizations or groups of parents and teachers can organize and manage a school if minimum requirements are met.
- These freedoms have resulted in a comparatively diverse supply of schools.
- The central government provides a national curriculum and exams.
- Teacher salaries and work conditions are regulated through national collective agreements.
- Independent schools are protected by the constitutional right to freedom of organization, allowing a high degree of managerial autonomy.
- Around 70% of primary and secondary pupils attend independent schools.
- The money follows the child. The principle that governs the flow of funds is that of invisible per capita financing.
- School budgets depend on enrolment and vary according to demand in both public and independent schools.
- Government covers the full cost of schooling. There is no parental “topping up”, but financial contributions to extra-curricular activities are permitted.
- Schools with enrolling students from less privileged backgrounds receive more government money.
- If this model were applied to Manitoba, school boards would be eliminated and the system of passing along costs to local property owners by means of property taxes would cease to exist. Funding would simply follow the student and there would no longer be an administrative middleman to complicate lines of accountability
Lastly, a short report on Denmark, which has about 75% funding of the full cost, with parents contributing $720/yr [CD$ I think].
Teachers’ unions have traditionally opposed the idea of school choice, which they see as a direct threat to our system of universal primary and secondary education.
This reasoning is flawed. In fact, more choice tends to strengthen public schools, as recent evidence from Denmark indicates. In September, the Fraser Institute took a look at the Danish experience with public school vouchers. It turns out that schools there were all better off when parents are allowed to shop around.
The Danes have a long history of offering a diversified school product, a result of their fervent embrace of religious autonomy and parental control over education. When they made basic education compulsory in 1849, they also guaranteed parents would be able to send their children to the schools of their choice for whatever reasons moved them, whether religious, academic or political.
Vouchers in Denmark pay about 75% of the full cost of sending a child to private school. Believing that parental interest and control would suffer if the state footed the whole bill, the government requires families to pay around $720 a year for each child enrolled in an independent school. This small out-of-pocket touch makes parents “price-sensitive” customers. More basically, choice produces a powerful incentive for results. Compare, the competitive, choice-based Danish model with our own “free”, cost-plus monopoly system. The Danes educate a student for under $2900 and score higher on international literacy and math tests. Manitobans pay about $7000 per public school student, even though results are lower.
The Danes — including those in the Education Ministry — believe wider choice has improved government schools. To quote the Fraser report, “Danish municipal schools imitate successful practices pioneered in the independent sector because they risk losing pupils and popular support if they do not.” According to the OECD, “Municipal schools are starting to replicate the [independent school] model of parental involvement. . . .”
FCPP has more research resources on school choice at The Education Frontiers Project.
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