Unlike parents in most areas of the United States, parents in different European societies have a real choice of comparable schools, both public and private, and they can exercise their options without paying very high fees. Most often the private schools are Catholic or Protestant schools that operate within the national educational system and receive state grants. In international discussions on the expansion of parental choice and the private delivery of education, the Dutch arrangement quite often is regarded as "unique." Central to the Dutch arrangement are two constitutional rights: the right of freedom of education and the right of public and private institutions to equal public funding. As a result, approximately 70 percent of Dutch parents send their children to schools that, although established by private associations and managed by private school boards, are nonetheless fully funded by the central government. In the opinion of national interest groups as well as national experts, this freedom of education and equal financing of public and private education from public funds makes the Dutch system exceptional. Foreign observers have tended to agree with this assessment, as illustrated by a review of the Dutch education system by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and by the remarks of other international observers who have said, among other things, that "the evolution of the Dutch system of education is unique in the Western World." Therefore, the argument goes, the Netherlands offers an "experiment" in the private production of education on a national scale, a century-old experiment that includes the entire education system. As Brown so concisely puts it, "The Netherlands is the only country with a nationwide school choice program."3 These statements, however, are exaggerated. The Dutch educational system is not too far removed from the systems of other countries, as one can see in Dronkers's analysis of European public and religious schools in chapter 11 of this volume. Religious schools in some other European countries also have a constitutional right to state financial support. Still, although these observers are exaggerating the uniqueness of the Dutch educational system, school choice in the Netherlands differs in several respects from school choice in other European countries, such as Germany and Belgium, with similar state-subsidized religious and public school sectors. First, in most European countries with school choice, the religious schools are of one denomination, operated mostly by the Catholic Church or one of the Protestant churches, which at one time may have been the state church. This is not the case in the Netherlands, which was created in the religious wars of the sixteenth century and, as a result, became home to a large Catholic minority within an ultimately moderate Protestant state. The religious diversity of Dutch society promoted an early de facto neutrality of the Dutch Protestant state in relation to most Christian religions and thus to an early de facto separation between the dominant Protestant church and the state. Consequently, there was hardly a political battle on the juridical separation of the church and the state, as there was in France or Germany. Nor did the link between church and state linger on in the Netherlands during the twentieth century, as it did in the United Kingdom. The taken-for-granted neutrality of the Dutch state therefore owes itself to something other than the juridical separation of church and state. Since the 1920s, in the wake of political struggles the century before, the Netherlands has had-in addition to the locally run public education sector-three main private sectors: Catholic, Protestant, and a smaller, religiously neutral sector, all with independent private school boards. The three main private sectors have been joined by other, smaller religious sectors - first Jewish, later Islamic and Hindu-and some small, private nonreligious sectors with a special didactic, first Montessori and Jena, later Steiner. Within the Catholic and Protestant school sectors there are national umbrella organizations that also function as lobbies. But they do not replace the autonomous school boards, nor do they coordinate all Protestant or Catholic schools. These school boards have the juridical form of a foundation (predominantly in the Catholic sector) or an association (predominantly in the Protestant sector), both with a high degree of self-selection of new board members. Second, the equal subsidizing of all religious and public schools has promoted a diminution of prestigious elite schools outside the state-subsidized sector. As a consequence of equal subsidies and prohibition of the use of extra funds for teacher grants, smaller classes, and the like, there is not an institutionalized hierarchy of schools within each school type. In the Netherlands, you do not see the equivalent of the so-called public schools or independent grammar schools in England, nor do you see versions of the prep schools in the United States or the differences in quality that exist there between schools in the poor inner cities and those in the wealthy suburbs. The distinctive situation in the Netherlands, in terms of the size of the private sector and the context in which private schools operate, provides a favorable setting for testing many of the arguments in the school choice and voucher debates. First, one can test the hypothesis that providing subsidies to private schools will make them more effective competitors of public schools and that the strengthened competition will force public schools to become better. In order to test that hypothesis, the barriers to attending a school other than the one closest to a student's residence must be low. That is the case in the Netherlands, where schools are numerous, population density is high, public transportation is generally available, spending per pupil varies little, and money follows the student. Second, it must be possible to test the interaction of school choice, private schools, and external examinations. According to Bishop, private schools, being more sensitive to market pressures, will respond more radically to an external exam system than public schools will. In the Netherlands, the government sets the examinations for each type of school-these exams influence access to tertiary education and job opportunities-while leaving schools a good deal of freedom to choose course materials and teaching method. And finally, the practice of repeating grades, redoublement, as a way of allowing some students extra time to achieve very demanding learning goals, can be examined. This practice is widespread in some European countries, and schools differ in their rates of redoublement, but by American standards the rates are very high in the Netherlands.