NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

European Private Schools

August 22, 2002

Some voucher opponents argue that the European model of public schools shows that public schools are superior to private schools. However, critics believe they miss a very important point: European states fund private schools to a large degree, and the European model of a public/private mix of schools can teach the United States much.

Germany is an example of an effective private school system:

  • In east German states, private schools were only allowed in 1990, but 154 general education schools had been established by 1998.
  • In west German states, the number of students attending private schools jumped 14 percent to 506,700 students from 1992 to 1998.
  • Currently, private sectors students represent 10.3 percent of lower and upper secondary grammar schools, 7.1 percent of secondary modern schools and 16.4 percent of special schools.

Government funding the private schools is both direct and indirect. State governments provide lump sums for capital purchases and per capita subsidies. They also provide indirect subsidies, such as tax allowances and payments to parents to meet school fees and transport costs for pupils. Both of these mechanisms are similar to tax credits for education and vouchers advocated by President Bush.

Perhaps German private schools' most interesting feature is their freedom of action. They do not have to follow the same timetables, textbooks or curricula as government schools. Moreover, they may also promote specific religious and philosophical views and apply their own teaching methods. Inspection is minimal, limited mostly to filling out reports to local authorities.

Private school participation is even stronger in other European countries. In the Netherlands, parents have a right to form a private school and receive government funding. As a result, about 73 percent of Dutch children attend private school.

Source: James Tooley, "Private Education in the European Union," Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Volume 22, No. 2, June 2002.


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