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As our own General Assembly debates the merits of school vouchers, it is important to remember that the United States is far from being a pioneer in such policies.
In Chile, a nation-wide system of vouchers and state support for private schools has been in place for decades. State subsidization of private schooling is so extensive that an entire class of state-funded private schools has emerged. Chilean policies have wholeheartedly embraced the principle that market forces and "school choice" are the best approach to education.
The reality however, is that the privatization of education does not lead to better educational opportunities. Inequality remains extremely high in Chile, despite being one of the most economically successful countries in the Western Hemisphere. Access to higher education is limited, especially for students from the poorest communities.
A student-led national protest movement has gripped the country for over 5 months. The country's students have said "enough" to empty government promises that education reform is around the corner. The students are demanding increased support for public schools, increased access to higher education, and the end to harmful policies that help private hands at the expense of students. At the end of August, the Chilean government finally decided to end state support for for-profit schools, one of many demands from the student protestors.
Chile teaches us that the widespread use of vouchers and state subsidization of private schools does not create genuine school choice, education improvement, or social mobility for the poorest students. Instead, it institutionalizes a system where state resources are diverted to private institutions and where market forces are expected to fix the public school system, eliminating the government's responsibility to provide a quality education for all children.
My hope is that more people begin to realize that the rhetoric surrounding school vouchers, that they will lead to increased student achievement and motivate failing public schools to improve themselves to compete for students, is not rooted in reality. Chile, which has a decentralized education system like our own, is evidence that vouchers and state support for private education are a false promise for our state's students.