An Argentine taboo: educational patronage

Ph.D. en Economía en la Universidad de Chicago. Rector de la Universidad del CEMA. Miembro de la Academia Nacional de Educación. Consejero Académico de Libertad y Progreso.

BUENOS AIRES HERALD – Why not generate fiscal incentives which facilitate greater equality of opportunities?

A few days ago, President Mauricio Macri announced a draft law of cultural patronage. According to Télam official news agency, “what is sought with such laws is to inaugurate a direct and transparent way of financing cultural projects of social interest via contributions from private companies, which would be deducted from their respective tax obligations.”

Culture Minister Pablo Avelluto estimated that the programme could boost cultural investment by two billion pesos per year, which if repeated every year, “soon would impact on the training of artists, on the theatre market, dance groups, the maintenance of monuments and historical sites, modernization of museums and other aspects which at present are looking for financing.”

The project could have a significant social impact. However, given the educational reality faced by Argentina, it is reasonable to ask why not evaluate a legislation of educational patronage endowed with similar characteristics, targetting children who have the least and need it most.

Why not generate fiscal incentives which facilitate the operation of private schools of excellence, free, religious or secular, in deeply disadvantaged areas?

There is a legislation of such characteristics in Uruguay. It enables the operation of schools like the Liceo Jubilar (run by the Catholic Church) and the Liceo Impulso which is secular. Both free schools, privately funded with contributions from companies or individuals, not receiving any subsidies from the State, providing high school education to adolescents living below the poverty line, and achieving an academic performance comparable with the best schools in the country.

If the project of cultural patronage constitutes an advance towards a better Argentina, a project of educational patronage would be its logical complement. However, it has not been proposed nor mentioned as a possibility. Why? What is the cost of this?

The Real Academia Española defines the term “taboo” as the “condition of the people, institutions and things which may not be lawfully censored or mentioned.” In education, it is possible to illustrate it with any expression which does not explicitly defend public education, like educational patronage.

A tragi-comic illustration of this fact is provided by the comedy of errors closing out the last electoral process in Uruguay, culminating in the election of Tabaré Vázquez.

For years, the Broad Front had opposed an educational system allowing parents to choose the school to be attended by their children, regardless of their budget, arguing that it would induce the funding of private schools to the detriment of public schools.

On October 2014, five days before the presidential election, Tabaré mentioned in an interview the possibility of providing vouchers for students to attend private schools. He said that those students who want and deserve them would have access to the vouchers, after an assessment conducted by the Ministry of Education. He clarified that there was no estimated number of beneficiaries.

Tabaré immediately found himself under friendly fire. The teachers union did not hesitate to oppose him with the same reaction within his party. Meanwhile, his running-mate Raúl Sendic tried to calm the waters by stating that “the voucher is a transient tool allowing to maintain coverage where the infrastructure of public education is not enough, but the main wager is on public education.”

For its part, the opposition presented a picture as confusing as the ruling party. The vice-presidential candidate of the Partido Nacional, Jorge Larrañaga, accused Tabaré of proposing a neo-liberal model: “Vázquez has confessed that he wants to privatize public education, because that is what the system of vouchers means. We are going to defend public education, not like Vázquez and the Frente Amplio who surrender it.”

However, as stated by the Senator for the Partido Nacional Gustavo Penades, the proposal of Tabaré “is an old idea of the Partido Nacional,” to be found in every electoral campaign since the 1994 elections to date.

Given the magnitude of the dispute, Tabaré, under crossfire from an opposition which preferred to forget they once proposed the same idea with the teachers union and with his own party, said in a recent interview that his proposal would be applied in not more than 30 outstanding cases, given that the main commitment of the Broad Front is to strengthen public education to which “it gives absolute preference”.

Thirty children! Three days before a presidential election, Tabaré Vázquez had to devote his time to explaining that his comment about the vouchers was directed, at most, to 30 children. Absurd!

It is time to return to our reality. What better illustration of a taboo than educational patronage? All of the political class, regardless of whether they represent the ruling coaltion or the opposition, do not even consider analyzing a project of educational patronage. All of them defend public education by means of emotional discourses while, curiously, they send their children to private schools.

It is essential to understand that there exists a taboo which prevents even considering a project of educational patronage. What better way to facilitate greater equality of opportunities for children who have the least and need the most? What better example of social justice?

A project of educational patronage would be explicit evidence of the strong will of Mauricio Macri to carry out a real educational revolution.