However, some point out problems resulting from decentralisation, emphasising that local governments are more likely to be controlled by local interest groups.27. They are also not able to take advantage of economies of scale. In addition, there is greater heterogeneity in decentralised management capacities compared to centralised management, and in some cases it is inferior.28. If it occurs, decentralisation can have a tendency to replicate the segmentation of local governments in terms of their management capacity of education systems. All these arguments could be used in characterising the range of experiences with decentralisation in the region. However, various voices argue that decentralisation has not led to greater changes in the most important space for public education policies: the classroom.29.

Experiences with decentralised management of education systems in Latin America have varied in terms of gradualness, magnitude and attributes.30. Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico began the process of decentralisation before the rest of the region in the 1980s, and other countries later followed suit. The majority of Latin American countries now have some elements of decentralised management in their education systems. Decentralisation is generally a gradual, sequential or incremental process in the sense that it does not come through the passage of a single law, but has a long-term perspective. Decentralisation also varies in terms of the competencies delegated to sub-national bodies and educational institutions. Decentralised functions can be classified as follows: i) the function of leading, regulating and supervising the sector; ii) the financing function; iii) the function of the direct management of the service (personnel policy and investment management, etc.); and iv) the “planning” function (educational goals, goals with respect to coverage and quality, curriculum, fixing school timetables and schedules, etc.).31.

Decentralisation can have an incremental effect on the provision of private educational services. The decentralisation process might not always affect coverage or performance. For example, the decentralisation reform in Colombia in 2001 did not lead to improved enrolment rates, according to an evaluation of the measure. However, municipalities with greater autonomy were more likely to sign subsidy contracts with private schools.32. In this way decentralisation has served to increase private provision of educational services.

Decentralisation policy implies the need for greater resources for school management. The effective shift of centralised sectoral policies and strategies to the implementation of programmes at the local level requires two key elements: i) monitoring and communication links between central, regional and local levels, and ii) an updated management information system that is accurate and timely in order to implement a monitoring system.33. In addition, economies of scale seem to indicate that the following interventions are better when they are the responsibility of central government: i) sectoral planning and programming; ii) the assignment of additional resources based on certain equity criteria; iii) basic curriculum design; and iv) the management of teachers and statutes regulating teaching.34. All of this requires a solid local management capacity. This seems to be the major outstanding challenge of decentralisation: providing local entities with better management capacity, especially in the less economically developed regions (those with higher rates of unmet basic needs, with a higher presence of ethnic minorities, with greater exposure to internal armed conflict and with greater vulnerability to natural disasters).

Disadvantaged schools in Latin American, like those in the OECD, tend to lack resources. Figure 4.7 shows the relationship between the average socio-economic level of students and the school’s level of resources. Even when schools have a similar number of teachers, disadvantaged schools tend to receive more resources in some areas (e.g. Percentage of full-time certified teachers), whereas in other areas (e.g. Quality of educational resources), the more advantaged schools receive a larger share of the resources. Decentralisation reforms can play a decisive role in balancing the distribution of these resources.35.

Figure 4.8

Correlation Between Average Socio-Economic Level & School Resources

Figure 4.8. Correlation Between Average Socio-Economic Level & School Resources