SANTIAGO – Chile’s Constitutional Tribunal rejected five out of six challenges filed by rightist lawmakers to a bill that would overhaul an educational regime that is largely the legacy of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Augusto Pinochet, who slashed support for public schools and encouraged privatization.
The bill is part of President Michelle Bachelet’s project aimed at making free, quality education available to all Chilean students.
The tribunal voted 6-5 to reject opposition legislators’ argument that the bill violates the constitution by barring selective admissions policies for all but the most prestigious secondary schools, by requiring for-profit educational institutions that receive state subsidies to become non-profits and by mandating how private schools may use the money they get from the government.
Likewise dismissed were challenges to provisions of the law that restrict private entities’ ability to open new schools and banning school owners and administrators from leasing classroom space from their relatives.
“The state has a perfect right to evaluate where public resources will go,” the court majority concluded. “It can establish conditions or requisites intended to guarantee the right to education by way of control of the delivery of subsidies.”
Judges did side with the plaintiffs on a provision that was inserted into the bill without support from the Bachelet administration, ordering changes to bring the text into conformity with the constitution.
The court’s ruling clears the way for the enactment of the law, which gives for-profit schools until the end of 2017 to convert into non-profit foundations.
Chilean college and high school students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times in 2011 to press the right-wing government of then-President Sebastian Piñera to improve education.
The scale and persistence of the protests turned the leaders into national figures and several are now in Congress.