ResearchPDF Available

Abstract and Figures

The global expansion of non-state actors as providers of basic education has frequently taken place under the umbrella of some form of public-private partnership (PPP). PPPs have expanded despite an increasing number of studies warning about the possible negative consequences of higher levels of private provision on equity, such as school segregation and students selection practices. As a response to these equity concerns, different actors have engaged in an intense debate on the pros and cons of PPPs and, specifically, how the governance of private subsidized schooling can be put at the service of the right to education. A growing consensus has emerged around the idea that the ultimate impact of PPPs depends largely on the specifics of their policy design. As a result of this debate, several international organizations call to adopt regulatory frameworks that could contribute to inhibit both school segmentation and opportunistic behaviors in the context of PPPs. Despite the centrality of regulation and accountability efforts in the debate around PPPs in basic education, the different policy options and instruments available for such purposes have been less systematically examined. The first objective of this paper is to identify the main regulatory and accountability dimensions involved in the governance of private subsidized schools, as well as the main policy designs available for each of these dimensions to promote equity in education. On this basis, the paper examines how different PPP regulatory dimensions can affect educational equity. The evidence presented is based on a review of the available literature on the relationship between PPPs and education equity in education systems with a significant presence of publicly funded private schools. Finally, the paper systematizes the main lessons drawn from the literature reviewed regarding the regulation of private subsidized schools in the context of PPPs.
Content may be subject to copyright.
This paper was commissioned by the Global Education Monitoring
Report as background information to assist in drafting the 2021/2
GEM Report, non-state actors in education. It has not been edited
by the team. The views and opinions expressed in this paper are
those of the author(s) and should not be attributed to the Global
Education Monitoring Report or to UNESCO. The papers can be
cited with the following reference: “Paper commissioned for the
2021/2 Global Education Monitoring Report, Non-State Actors in
Education”. For further information, please contact
Regulating Public-Private
Partnerships, governing non-state
schools: An equity perspective
Background paper prepared for
the Global Education Monitoring Report
Non-state actors in education
The global expansion of non-state actors as providers of basic education has frequently
taken place under the umbrella of some form of public-private partnership (PPP). PPPs
have expanded despite an increasing number of studies warning about the possible
negative consequences of higher levels of private provision on equity, such as school
segregation and students selection practices. As a response to these equity concerns,
different actors have engaged in an intense debate on the pros and cons of PPPs and,
specifically, how the governance of private subsidized schooling can be put at the service
of the right to education. A growing consensus has emerged around the idea that the
ultimate impact of PPPs depends largely on the specifics of their policy design. As a result
of this debate, several international organizations call to adopt regulatory frameworks that
could contribute to inhibit both school segmentation and opportunistic behaviors in the
context of PPPs.
Despite the centrality of regulation and accountability efforts in the debate around PPPs
in basic education, the different policy options and instruments available for such
purposes have been less systematically examined. The first objective of this paper is to
identify the main regulatory and accountability dimensions involved in the governance of
private subsidized schools, as well as the main policy designs available for each of these
dimensions to promote equity in education. On this basis, the paper examines how
different PPP regulatory dimensions can affect educational equity. The evidence
presented is based on a review of the available literature on the relationship between PPPs
and education equity in education systems with a significant presence of publicly funded
private schools. Finally, the paper systematizes the main lessons drawn from the literature
reviewed regarding the regulation of private subsidized schools in the context of PPPs.
Abstract 2
Table of Content 3
1. Introduction 1
2. The governance and regulation of PPPs for education
provision 3
2.1. PPPs for education provision: meaning and policy scope 3
2.2. Concerns and debates relating to the effects of PPPs on
educational inequalities 5
2.3. The focus on public regulation 8
3. The regulation of educational PPPs: a research
framework 12
3.1. Theory and politics of regulation 12
3.2. Key regulatory dimensions 16
3.3. The equity challenges of PPPs: a focus on the mechanisms 18
3.4. Methodological approach 26
4. Regulating towards equity: international trends and
policy options in PPPs for education 29
4.1. Authorization of providers 29
4.2. Funding 34
4.3. School choice and admissions 41
4.4. Autonomy, evaluation and accountability 50
4.5. Teachers 56
5. Discussion and policy implications 62
References 68
1. Introduction
Over the past few decades, the involvement of non-state actors (e.g., private companies, NGOs, faith-
based institutions, etc.) in the provision of basic education has increased dramatically, particularly in
middle- and low-income countries (Verger, Fontdevila & Zancajo, 2016; UNESCO, 2017). Although the
increasing involvement of private providers in the countries of the Global South has frequently been
the result of the expansion of private independent schools, usually Low Fee Private Schools (LFPSs)
(Walford, 2015), different countries have adopted or are considering the adoption of some form of
Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between private providers and the State. In high-income countries, a
significant number of national education systems have a long tradition of education PPPs (e.g.,
Belgium, the Netherlands) while others have adopted them over the past few decades (e.g., the US,
At the same time that PPPs for education provision are spreading, various national and international
actors are warning about the potential negative effects that these policies tend to have on equity in
education. Over the past few years, a consensus that PPPs for education provision impact negatively
on social and educational inequalities has emerged, particularly by increasing school segregation and
social stratification among schools, or even by fostering the marginalization of the most disadvantaged
students (Macpherson, Robertson & Walford, 2014; Waslander, Pater & Weide, 2010; OECD, 2012;
Alegre & Ferrer, 2010).
As a result of these concerns, different international organizations have claimed that public regulation
is a key dimension to reconcile the supposed positive effects of the involvement of private providers,
with better outcomes in terms of equity. However, currently, the regulatory approach to PPPs faces
two main challenges. Firstly, it is not clear what PPPs regulation entails in the educational sector.
Different actors have proposed regulatory reforms, based on very different perspectives. While
certain stakeholders recommend increasing managerial, post-bureaucratic and market accountability
policies, others consider that the State should play a more important role in establishing stricter rules
and concrete goals, as well as in actively monitoring private providers. Secondly, evidence relating to
the impact of regulatory measures on PPPs' performance and, in particular, on education providers'
behavior is still scarce. While the impact of education PPPs has generated an important debate within
academic and political circles, the effects of the design of these policies and the regulatory frameworks
under which they operate, have been less studied and analyzed. Indeed, the controversy and debate
around the effects of education PPPs can be partially explained by the omission of the role of
regulatory frameworks and policy design characteristics in current research (Verger, Moschetti &
Fontdevila, 2020).
The debate around the capacity of regulatory frameworks and policy designs, oriented towards
inhibiting the potential negative effects of PPPs for education provision, is particularly relevant in the
context of the education and development agenda. Within international development circles,
education PPPs have been gaining prominence over the last two decades a process that, as
documented by Verger (2012), owes much to the dissemination efforts of experts, affiliated to a range
of international agencies, including the World Bank Group or the Asian Development Bank. More
recently, different international stakeholders, such as the Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF
and especially the World Bank Group, particularly through the International Finance Corporation, have
pointed out that PPPs can play an important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
(SGDs) (Powell, 2016; Verger & Moschetti, 2017; see also Global Partnership for Education, 2019).
Although, in some contexts, PPPs and other forms of non-state actors’ education provision seem to
have been successful in expanding access to primary and secondary education (Pedró, Leroux &
Watanabe, 2015; Moumné & Saudemont, 2015), this expansion is not always compatible with the
promotion of equity in education and quality education for all. In this regard, the main concerns about
education PPPs revolve around their capacity to create new forms of discrimination or access barriers
for socially disadvantaged students, as well as to exacerbate the social segmentation and stratification
of national education systems.
This paper’s main objective is to review the key regulatory options and reforms oriented towards
improving the equity outcomes of PPPs for education provision. With a view to this objective, and
based on an analysis of the literature, the paper identifies the most relevant dimensions of PPPs’
regulatory frameworks and explores the policy options adopted by different national education
systems to promote equity therein.
The paper is structured as follows. The next section synthesizes the main concerns on the impact of
education PPPs on equity, as well as the prominence that a regulatory approach is acquiring in the
international debate relating to these policies. The third section summarizes the analytical approach
and the methodological strategy applied in the research presented here. The fourth section presents
the main findings of the research according to the dimensions of PPPs regulation identified. Finally,
the fifth section revisits the main conclusions of the research and elaborates on its policy implications.
2. The governance and regulation of PPPs for education provision
Non-state actors play an increasingly prominent role within education systems across the globe as
providers of core and supplementary education services, but also in the areas of funding or policy
formulation. In relation to education provision, in particular, the growing centrality of the non-state
sector has been paralleled by an increasing awareness of the need to establish appropriate
governance and regulatory frameworks, which ensure that private provision does not impact
negatively on system-level education goals, including equity. PPPs represent a case in point in this
regard for, over the last decade, a consensus has emerged not only in relation to the problematic
impact and the risks entailed in this policy, but also regarding the potential of regulatory frameworks
to tackle such negative externalities.
This section discusses the growing centrality of PPP regulatory frameworks within academic and policy
debates, in order to situate such a theme within the broader debate about the role and impact of non-
state school providers in educational systems. This section gives an overview of the centrality acquired
by PPPs as one of the main forms in which non-state education provision has crystallized, and then
traces the evolution of the PPP debate. Here, we pay particular attention to the effects of PPPs on
educational inequalities, and to the emergence of a new wave of regulatory measures that aim to
address the equity risks and challenges associated with PPPs.
2.1. PPPs for education provision: meaning and policy scope
Over the past few decades, PPPs have acquired an increasingly central presence in global education
debates. However, the concept of PPP has been transposed into the education field in a broader sense
than in other sectors, such as water supply, transportation or energy (Verger & Moschetti, 2017). In
these and other sectors, PPPs tend to be seen as a financial arrangement for the building of new
infrastructures, or as a governance strategy that implies a very close relationship between the public
and private sectors, in the sense that the two sectors collaborate at the level of policy formulation,
generate spaces for mutual learning and share risks (Khanom, 2010). Therefore, in these cases, the
conventional outsourcing of a service, would not be considered as a PPP. In contrast, with regard to
social services such as education, the concept of PPP tends to cover a broader range of policy options.
For instance, according to the World Bank, PPPs in education are a continuum that involves different
levels of engagement between the public and private sectors, including subsidies to private schools,
contracting-out educational services, the private management of public schools, or competitive
funding schemes for both public and private schools (Patrinos, Barrera-Osorio & Guáqueta, 2009).
Under the umbrella of education PPPs, it is possible to identify different types of arrangements and
agreements between the State and private actors. The three most common types of PPPs in the
educational sector cover: 1) the provision of the core education service (i.e., school management and
teaching); 2) the building and maintenance of school facilities and 3) the provision of ancillary
education services (e.g., school meals, transportation, cleaning services). PPPs for education provision,
which are the focus of this paper, encompass a broad range of policies and programs that entail a
contract between the State and the private sector in which public sources fund an education service
and a private actor delivers it. Specifically, it is possible to distinguish between three main policy
1) Contracted schools. Private schools that are directly contracted by the government to provide
the education service in exchange for total or partial public funding. Under this scheme,
schools are not necessarily publicly funded on a per-capita basis.
2) Charter schools. State-owned schools that are managed by private entities. Frequently, these
schools enjoy higher levels of autonomy than traditional public schools.
3) Vouchers. Private schools receive public funding depending on the number of students en-
rolled. In some cases, private schools can combine voucher and privately funded students.
Bellei and Orellana (2014) consider that the design of PPP programs might also differ significantly
according to the public requirements for private schools, in exchange for receiving public funding.
These authors distinguish between the following levels of requirement:
1) No additional requirements. Within certain voucher programs, private schools receiving pub-
lic funding do not need to meet any particular requirement beyond those which apply to pri-
vate independent schools.
2) Increased accessibility. The most basic requirement for private schools in exchange for public
funding is to increase their accessibility to specific groups of students or particular educational
options. This objective can be achieved in two different ways: regulating the admissions poli-
cies of private schools or providing public funds specifically for the enrollment of targeted
3) Educational inputs and processes. Other PPPs’ policies entail the establishment of specific
regulations for publicly-funded private schools. These regulations can relate to the delivery of
the official curriculum, to teachers’ credentials and employment conditions, or to students'
admission criteria, among others.
4) Attain education achievements. The last category of requirements refers to PPP programs
that establish the achievement of specific learning standards and academic performance ob-
jectives as a condition for private schools to renew the contract and continue receiving public
Box 1. Independent and government-dependent private schools.
From the point of view of regulation, it is important to conceptually distinguish between independent
private schools and government-dependent private schools. International statistical definitions
consider any educational institution which receives at least 50% of its core funding ‘from government
agencies or one whose teaching personnel are paid by a government agency either directly or
through government’ as a private government-dependent school (UOE, 2019, p.26). Frequently, in
exchange for public funding, private government-dependent schools should conform to certain public
regulations that do not apply to private independent schools. However, as the OECD (2017a) points
out, the fact that private education institutions should comply with public regulations does not mean
they can be considered public, since their ownership continues to be private.
Overall, we consider relevant for the analysis of the regulatory frameworks, those PPPs for education
provision in which public funding covers most of the expenses of the schools (>50%) and involves
certain public requirements for private schools, in exchange for public funding (frequently formalized
in a contract between the State and the school), in addition to the basic requirements for school
authorization/licensing, applied to the domain of private schools.
2.2. Concerns and debates relating to the effects of PPPs on educational inequalities
Although education PPPs are spreading globally, evidence of their impact on areas such as student
achievement or pedagogic innovation, remains inconclusive. While the ability of PPPs to improve the
effectiveness and efficiency of education systems is frequently one of the main arguments of their
advocates, evidence shows contradictory results regarding their impact on these dimensions. Certain
studies identify the positive effects of PPPs on the efficiency of education systems and learning
outcomes (Hoxby, 2003; Woessmann, 2005; Woessman, Lüdemann & Schütz, 2007; Chakrabarti,
2008), while others show that their impact is negligible or almost negligible (Hsieh & Urquiola, 2006;
Musset, 2012; Belfield & Levin, 2002; Rouse & Barrow, 2009). However, there are studies that show
the adverse effects of the achievement gap between different socioeconomic groups of students
(Mizala & Torche, 2012; Baum, 2017). In the specific case of southern countries, a systematic review
of different forms of PPPs for the provision of education (i.e., contracted schools, vouchers or
subsidies) concluded that the evidence on the aggregate impact of these interventions on learning
outcomes is still scarce and frequently inconclusive (Aslam, Rawal & Saeed, 2017).
One of the main arguments of PPPs’ advocates is the capacity of these policies to promote pedagogical
innovation and to foster the diversification of school supply (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Peterson, 1990;
Tooley, 1997). Nevertheless, the vast majority of the evidence available points out that education PPPs
do not necessarily promote pedagogical innovation or contribute to the diversification of school
supply (Lubienski, 2006; 2009; Villalobos & Salazar, 2014; Fiske & Ladd, 2000). Indeed, in certain
contexts, research has shown how market dynamics have increased back-to-basis pedagogies as a
means of responding to the preferences of families, who tend to privilege academic approaches
(Hastings et al., 2005; Glatter et al., 1997).
Evidence of the effects of PPPs in relation to educational equity is much more conclusive. Over the
past few years, a consensus relating to the risks that PPPs pose with regard to equity in education has
been prevalent. This is particularly relevant, given that certain influential international organizations
have advocated and promoted PPPs as a means of expanding the educational opportunities of socially
disadvantaged populations and achieving global education development objectives (see Bano et al.,
2014; Patrinos et al., 2009; LaRocque & Lee, 2011; cf. also Box 2 below). Despite PPPs having
contributed to the expansion of primary and secondary education in certain countries (Pedró, Leroux
& Watanabe, 2015; Moumné & Saudemont, 2015), they have usually done so at the cost of increasing
educational inequalities. Different studies show how education systems in which private provision and
market mechanisms (i.e., choice and competition) play a relevant role, tend to result in worse
outcomes in terms of equity (Alegre & Ferrer, 2010; Elacqua, 2012; Waslander et al., 2010; Dumay &
Dupriez, 2014). This is, for instance, the case of Baum (2017), who analyzes the effect of educational
PPPs on equity in 17 different education systems and concludes that PPPs expand ‘social disparities,
by disproportionately serving students in the upper income quintiles’ (p. 24). Similarly, a recent
comparative study of different European countries concludes that, if public expenditure per pupil is
accounted for, countries with large numbers of private, subsided schools tend to have higher levels of
academic segregation (Eurydice, 2020: 15). Other studies relating to education privatization and
market mechanisms in education have shown that PPPs end up contributing to the marginalization of
the most disadvantaged students (Macpherson et al., 2014; Ndimande & Lubienski, 2017).
Box 2. PPPs and development agendas
Global goals and international development agendas (i.e., EFA, MDGs, SDGs) have been strategically
mobilized by certain donors and governments to justify and legitimize PPPs and other market-oriented
policies. To them, private provision is portrayed as a quick and effective strategy to increase access to
basic education a goal recurrently emphasized in such agendas (see Fennell, 2010; Rose, 2010;
Srivastava, 2010a).
To a great extent, development goals have been deliberately ambiguous regarding the expectations
placed on the private sector in terms of education provision. For instance, SDG 4 and the related
‘Education 2030 Declaration and Framework for Action’ (UNESCO, 2015a) recognize that the private
sector has a key role to play in realizing the right to education, but notes that the State remains the
duty bearer of education as a public good, and that collaboration with the private sector requires
regulatory and accountability measures to ensure it is line with the principle of education as a public
good (p. 28, 70). The private sector is expected to strengthen public education by providing extra
resources, expertise and additional services, but it is less clear whether the private sector is also
expected to directly provide core education services (p. 59). Overall, in these and prior UN initiatives,
while the private sector is recognized as a key development partner (Morgan, 2017), it is less clear
how it contributes to the very delivery of public services (Draxler, 2016, 2020). Such dynamics cannot
be dissociated from the fact that global goals typically involve a certain compromise between an array
of organizations with different political preferences. Given the uneasy nature of these alliances, such
agreements are unlikely to either endorse or rule out controversial policy ideas as is clearly the case
of PPPs in education.
Although it cannot be directly inferred that global development agendas do (or do not) support private
provision or PPPs in education, the sense of urgency surrounding global goals have been strategically
mobilized by PPPs’ advocates to promote this policy option, while rendering recipient countries and
donors more receptive to such proposals (Rose, 2010; Verger, 2012). These dynamics have, for
instance, been documented in the case of Pakistan, where the MDGs and the EFA have been invoked
as a means of legitimizing an ambitious PPP program and have stimulated domestic interest in this
policy approach (Bano, 2008; Sarward & Khan, 2016; Ifran, 2015). Similarly, in the case of India, PPPs
appear to be perceived as an appropriate policy alternative to achieve the targets set by EFA, MDGs
and SDG, particularly in the context of budgetary constraints (Srivastava, 2010b; Gowda, 2020). There
is also evidence that some government officials have been particularly benevolent with LFPS as they
perceived them as being instrumental in reaching the EFA commitments (Srivastava, 2008).
Concerns relating to the equity risks of education PPPs have recently transcended the academic
sphere and currently form part of the policy discourse of key international stakeholders. For instance,
the OECD has produced extensive evidence as to how the presence of universal or targeted vouchers
is associated with higher levels of social stratification between public and private schools (OECD,
2012a), how education systems with higher levels of competition between schools tend to show lower
levels of social inclusion (OECD, 2014), or how the apparent advantage of private schools in terms of
learning outcomes, is primarily explained by their more favorable socioeconomic composition of
students (OECD, 2011). Regarding school choice, a recent report also released by the OECD,
demonstrates that relaxing the role of residence as a criterion of admission and fostering the capacity
of families and students to choose schools, tends to increase school segregation (OECD, 2019).
UNESCO has also pointed out the potential risks that private provision and market mechanisms in
education pose in relation to equity. The 2017/18 edition of the Global Education Monitoring Report
states that ‘encouraging education systems to function more like markets is likely to benefit better-
resourced schools and families, leading to greater inequality’ (UNESCO, 2017: 61). The same report
also warns about the impact of public subsidies to attend private schools (e.g., voucher schemes). The
evidence reviewed in the report shows that instead of expanding the capacity of choice of low-income
students, these subsidies can increase inequalities, particularly when schools charge add-on tuition
fees to families or select students. The landmark UNESCO publication ‘Rethinking Education. Towards
a global common good?also emphasized the risk related to the expansion of privatization. While the
report affirms that the involvement of private providers can generate new educational opportunities
for some social groups, it also highlights the potential risks in terms of fulfilling the right to education:
The reproduction and possible exacerbation of inequalities of learning opportunities resulting
from privatization in all its forms raises important questions about the notion of education as
a public good and about the role of the state in ensuring the right to education (UNESCO,
2015b: 75).
Even the World Bank, a long-time advocate of privatization and pro-market policies in education
(Verger & Bonal, 2012; Mundy & Menashy, 2014), has recognized the possible unintended
consequences of these policies. As Srivastava (2017) points out, the 2018 World Development Report
(World Bank, 2018), focused on education, makes certain direct statements relating to the possible
negative effects of education privatization. Although the report considers that the involvement of
private actors in the provision of education has some virtues (e.g., filling the gaps in State provision,
introducing innovative pedagogical approaches or responding to the preferences of families or
minority groups), it also highlights the possible opportunistic behaviors of private providers in terms
of student selection or information biases, as well as the underlying equity concerns. In this respect,
it observes that “private schools may skim off the higher-income students who are easiest and most
profitable to teach, leaving only the more disadvantaged students in the public system” (World Bank,
2018: 177). The World Bank report also states that the expansion of private provision ‘can undermine
the political constituency for effective public schooling in the longer term’ (World Bank, 2018: 177).
2.3. The focus on public regulation
As a response to concerns relating to the impact of PPPs and other forms of education privatization
on equity, public regulation has recently emerged as the main policy option to tackle education
inequalities, resulting from private actors’ involvement in the provision of education. Advocates of
strengthening the regulation of PPPs argue that effective regulations would inhibit families’ and
schools’ opportunistic or unintended behaviors which trigger educational inequalities, thereby
improving the equity outcomes of PPPs. A recent OECD policy document summarizes this approach as
follows: ‘What matters are smart policies that maximise the benefits of choice while minimising the
risks, and establishing a level playing field for all providers to contribute to the school system’ (OECD,
2017: 3). Whilst certain international stakeholders are optimistic about the fact that effective
regulations can allow education systems to combine the supposed positive effects of education PPPs
(e.g., diversification, innovation or responsiveness) with better outcomes in terms of equity (OECD,
2017b; World Bank, 2018), others adopt a more pragmatic approach to this topic. This is, for instance,
the case of Rizvi (2016), who argues that:
[…] given the rapid rise in demand for education around the world, and an almost universal
commitment by governments to ensure universal education for all, an educational system
that is funded exclusively through the public purse is no longer a realistic option especially
in view of the inability or disinclination of most nation-states to fund educational expansion
through taxes. Some degree and forms of privatization thus appear inevitable. If this is the
case, then the question is no longer whether private actors should be allowed in education,
but rather, to what extent and how should their activities be regulated, and to what end. (p.
Nevertheless, the examination of the policy recommendations of key international organizations
regarding the regulation of education PPPs, reveals that there are different - and to some extent
contrasting - approaches to this issue. Two broad approaches or modes of PPP regulation can be
identified. On the one hand is a ‘command and control’ regulation strategy, in which the State plays a
central role in establishing prescriptive rules and enforcing them through inspections and sanctions
(Baldwin, Cave & Lodge, 2012; Black, 2002). On the other hand, is a ‘market-based’ (post-bureaucratic
or incentive-based) regulation strategy, which emphasizes the role of market mechanisms and
managerial accountability policies to guarantee that providers achieve certain standards, particularly
in terms of educational outputs (Baldwin et al., 2012; Lodge & Wegrich, 2012). Examples of the former
approach can be found in the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to
education, who urges States to establish comprehensive regulatory frameworks to ensure that
education PPPs are oriented towards the public interest and that private actors meet the quality
standards required. The UN Special Rapporteur also considers that public authorities should adopt
punitive actions against those private actors who engage in opportunistic behaviors or corruption
practices (United Nations, 2015). A similar approach is included in certain UNESCO policy documents.
For example, Moumné and Saudemont (2015) consider that legislative measures need to be taken to
regulate and monitor private education providers, including prescriptive and prohibitory obligations,
setting out minimum standards or, in the case of PPPs, establishing contractual arrangements to
ensure they respond to the needs of all students and create an effective legal environment. A recent
international civil society initiative, namely the Abidjan Principles
, also emphasizes the role that the
State should play in the context of the expansion of non-state actors in education. Although the
Abidjan Principles recognize the right of private entities to establish educational institutions, these
principles also consider that the ‘States must take all effective measures, including particularly the
adoption and enforcement of effective regulatory measures, to ensure the realization of the right to
education where private actors are involved in the provision of education’ (The Abidjan Principles,
2019, p. 19). In order to accomplish this mandate, States are expected to develop accountability
systems which, in the case of private providers, allow the enforcement of educational standards, as
well as the collection of data to analyze the impact of these providers on fulfilling the right to
‘The Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate
private involvement in education’ were released in 2019 and are the result of an intense process of discussion
involving right to education organizations, NGOs and other international civil society organizations.
In contrast, the market-based approach is emphasized by international organizations such as the
World Bank. For instance, the policy documents produced in the context of the World Bank’s SABER-
Engaging the Private Sector Program tend to highlight the role of market- and test-based
accountability mechanisms, as well as information systems, to ensure that the activity of private
providers engages with the goal of equality of opportunities. In this regard, Lewis and Patrinos (2011)
consider that regulatory frameworks need to promote competition and school autonomy, but also
establish standards accompanied by large-scale assessments, to ensure that the standards in question
are accomplished. In this respect, accountability systems are expected to furnish education providers
with the necessary incentives to meet the expected standards but also empower families to exercise
choice, exit and voice (Baum et al., 2014). Furthermore, World Bank documents also stress the role
educational outputs should play as key indicators of quality assurance standards, rather than
accountability being based on inputs or process requirements (Baum et al., 2014). In relation to
demand, Baum et al. (2014) affirm that the government needs to ensure that all social groups have
access to relevant information (e.g., schools’ performance) enabling them to exercise ‘real choice’ and
make private providers more responsive to their needs. However, World Bank policy
recommendations also consider that certain ‘distributive action’ is required to ensure that all students
enjoy the same opportunities. In this regard, removing, through regulations, access barriers such as
excessive tuition fees or selective admissions for targeted students, are considered necessary
measures to reduce inequality in terms of access (Baum et al., 2014).
Finally, the OECD position regarding the regulatory frameworks of PPPs seems to combine both
approaches summarized above. On the one hand, the OECD considers that the benefits of school
choice can only be achieved in a regulatory environment which guarantees high levels of autonomy
for education providers. This is based on the assumption that ‘the benefits of school choice only accrue
in environments where schools and teachers enjoy a great deal of autonomy’ (OECD, 2017b, p. 5). On
the other hand, it also recognizes that, in an environment characterized by ‘greater school autonomy,
decentralization and a more demand-driven school’ (p. 3), the State must be held responsible for
establishing clear guidelines and goals. However, regarding the way in which schools should be held
accountable, the OECD tends to emphasize traditional forms of bureaucratic and administrative
accountability, rather than managerial or market approaches.
PPPs regulatory frameworks can cover a broad range of dimensions, although not all of them are
equally relevant from an educational equity perspective. Recently, certain regulatory dimensions have
gained prominence in both academic and policy debates, given their more direct effect on the
generation of social and educational inequalities. This is particularly the case with regard to add-on
tuition fees, selective admissions and for-profit providers, for which a considerable body of evidence
has accumulated over recent years. Thus, the possibility of schools charging add-on tuition fees or
developing selective admissions policies can repeatedly be found as constituting an access barrier,
particularly among the most socially disadvantaged students. As Boeskens (2016) points out,
econometric simulations and empirical evidence show that the presence of add-on tuition fees or
selective admissions, can negatively affect access to PPP schools on the part of socially disadvantaged
students. The negative impact on equity in relation to selective admissions and add-on tuition fees on
segregation and social stratification between public and private schools has also been found in
different case studies (Fiske & Ladd, 2000; Jabbar, 2015; Elacqua, 2012; Alves et al., 2015). The third
dimension of regulation that has also attracted considerable attention is the inclusion of for-profit
providers in PPP schemes. Although evidence relating to the impact of for-profit providers is very
limited, it has generated important debates within academic and political circles. While some authors
consider that profit generation can offer providers the necessary incentives to access the education
market and increase the diversity and effectiveness of education systems (Friedman, 1955;
Lieberman, 1989; Lewis & Patrinos, 2011), others warn of the possible corruption risks or the fact that
not all public funding would necessarily be dedicated to educational activity (Levin, 2001; Abrams,
2016). Regarding these three dimensions of regulation, Verger et al. (2020) found that those PPPs
which prohibit add-on tuition fees, selective admissions or for-profit providers, tend to obtain better
equity outcomes. However, the impact of other regulatory dimensions of PPPs on educational equity
remains under-analyzed. For example, although they are frequently presented as a policy option to
improve equity in the context of PPPs, there is no substantial evidence that needs-based funding
schemes or controlled school choice systems reduce school segregation or social stratification among
Education PPPs can be regulated with an equity focus but regulating PPPs can also present important
challenges. Firstly, regulations are not always enacted by educational actors as policy makers expect
or as legal texts imply (Ball, Maguire & Braun, 2012; Maroy & van Zanten, 2007). Although regulations
should be accompanied by the necessary mechanisms to enforce it, it is also important to understand
the different and complex incentives that educational actors face and the logics of action and/or
strategies that these actors deploy to respond to such incentives. For example, studies conducted in
England, New Zealand, Chile and the US demonstrate how schools do not necessarily react to per-
capita funding schemes by trying to attract as much demand as possible, but by selecting the most
socially advantaged students even when existing regulations do not allow selective admissions
(Woods et al., 1998; Fiske & Ladd, 2000; Wylie, 2006; Contreras et al., 2010; Jabbar, 2015; van Zanten,
2009). In the US or Chile, evidence shows that schools sometimes respond to external performance
assessments, designed as quality assurance or accountability devices by promoting teaching to the
test or, even by engaging in gaming and cheating practices (Jennings & Bearak, 2014; Stecher, 2002;
Zancajo, 2020).
The second challenge that policy initiatives, oriented towards changing the regulations education PPPs
face, is a significant level of open opposition or resistance. Frequently, private providers and families
with children, enrolled in private schools, emerge as influential interest groups and are reluctant to
adopt stricter regulatory frameworks (Delvaux & Maroy, 2009; Demeuse & Friant, 2011; Bellei, 2016;
Zancajo, 2019). Finally, from a more technical point of view, the implementation of complex regulatory
frameworks requires high levels of resources and technical capacity. This could be particularly
challenging for southern countries in which budgetary restrictions, technical capacity and
underdeveloped State apparatus can act as barriers.
3. The regulation of educational PPPs: a research
Despite the prominence acquired by PPP regulatory frameworks as a strategy to address equity
challenges, the regulation efforts in the area of education have been subject to limited theorization.
This section aims at devising an analytical framework to understand PPP regulations in a theoretically
informed way. To this end, the section starts by situating regulation issues in connection to broader
debates on the governance of education systems and the changing role of the State, and follows by
identifying a number of theoretical insights, useful for making sense of the emergence and
heterogeneity of the regulatory frameworks. In order to provide a certain degree of analytical and
conceptual clarity, this section also identifies the main regulatory dimensions relevant for the study
of education PPPs, and the potential of each of them to address the equity challenges posed by PPPs.
The section finally provides an overview of the methodological strategy on which our research relies.
3.1. Theory and politics of regulation
The global expansion of education PPPs has altered the way in which education systems are governed
and regulated in numerous educational systems. The increasing presence of non-state actors which
are a result of PPPs, together with other recent transformations in education, such as the
intensification of decentralization processes or the spread of evaluation instruments have contributed
to regulation gaining salience in the governance of education (Braithwaite, Coglianese & Levi-Faur,
2007). In a broad sense, the regulation of education systems can be defined as the set of rules and
principles that are intended to influence the behavior of the actors involved in the system (Dupriez &
Maroy, 2003). According to Black (2002), the process of regulation also entails designing the control
and accountability mechanisms that ensure compliance with the rules established.
The analysis of the regulation of PPPs in education should take into account the fact that the
involvement of private subsidized providers frequently results in transformations that go far beyond
changes in ownership of the service provider. The adoption of PPPs entails significant changes in the
way in which schools are funded, their level of autonomy or the families’ and students’ capacity to
choose, among other dimensions. To a great extent, most PPP frameworks in education are aligned
with what Maroy (2009) denominates ‘post-bureaucratic modes of governance’. These new modes of
governance, which has spread worldwide in the past few decades, shares certain common traits with
the concept of PPPs, such as the promotion of private provision, the emphasis on school autonomy
and diversification as a means of improving education quality, the expansion of school choice or the
use of external performance assessments as an accountability mechanism. From a regulatory
perspective, it is important to take into account the fact that education PPPs frequently trigger, by
design or by default, market mechanisms in the educational system that significantly alter the way in
which education actors interact among them (Rizvi, 2016).
In many Western countries, the aforementioned transformations have meant important changes in
the role of the State in relation to the governance and regulation of social services, such as education.
In contexts that have experienced processes of partial or complete privatization, the State moves from
playing a leading role in the funding and provision of social services (‘welfare state’), to acting primarily
as a regulator of such services (‘regulatory state’) (Majone, 1994; Yeung, 2010). This transformation
does not entail ‘the wholesale relinquishing of control by the State over service provision, reflecting
its reconfigured mission as a regulator, rather than direct provider, of welfare and other essential
services’ (Yeung, 2010, p. 68). It is precisely this dissociation of the State’s role as regulator and
provider in post-bureaucratic modes of governance, which makes the role of the regulatory
frameworks a contributing factor in ensuring all educational providers are aligned with the norms,
rules and goals of the system (Maroy, 2012). However, whilst the State maintains the role of regulator,
it is not necessarily in charge of accountability processes or the enforcement of regulations. In certain
education systems, semi-independent public agencies or even private actors assume the monitoring,
evaluation, inspection and sanction of private and public providers.
Nevertheless, the regulatory frameworks of PPPs are far from homogenous. Two main factors can
explain this regulatory diversity. Firstly, as West and Nikolai (2017) point out, governments decisions
to fund private schools can be taken in pursuit of different policy goals, which, in turn, shape the
regulatory frameworks in which these policies crystallize. Governments can adopt education PPPs for
different reasons and under diverse circumstances. While some countries publicly fund private schools
as a means of supporting the expansion of primary or secondary education, in other countries, these
policies are adopted to guarantee freedom of instruction, expand school choice and competition,
increase the diversity of the education systems or promote school autonomy
. Policy goals are, in fact,
a core component in any ‘regulatory regime’ (Levi-Faur, 2011). Regulatory regimes can be defined as
the set of objectives, principles, rules, mechanisms of control and actors involved in the regulation of
a specific social domain, which respond to the policy objectives that are intended to be achieved. The
regulatory regime orientation (Vogel, 1996) allows us to examine the coherence and consistency
between the different dimensions of regulation, as well as identifying the control mechanisms
established to guarantee the observance of these norms. From the perspective of the regulatory
regimes, and by focusing specifically on the policy goals, it is possible to identify at least five types of
regulatory approaches of PPPs for educational provision, namely freedom of instruction, freedom of
instruction with equivalence, market approach, autonomy and educational expansion. See the main
characteristics of each approach in Table 1
Although this section emphasizes the role of national actors and factors in the adoption of education PPPs, in
the countries of the Global South, it is particularly important to consider the role of international organizations
and aid agencies in the adoption, formulation and regulation of these policies. While in certain cases these
organizations have promoted PPPs via aid-conditionality, many of them have also dedicated a significant effort
to disseminating these policies as a programmatic idea and as a technical solution for the educational
challenges that middle- and low-income countries face (Verger, 2012).
However, it is important to take into account that, in real situations, PPPs combine different policy goals, or
PPPs have evolved over recent years, with certain systems adding new policy goals to the original policy design
or adopting new and more sophisticated instruments to pursue the original policy goals.
Table 1. Typology of PPP for educational provision based on the dominant policy goal
Dominant policy
Main characteristics
Examples of
Freedom of
- The aim to guarantee the freedom of instruction
appears as the main driver of public funding of
private schools.
- Frequently, the original aim was to ensure a cer-
tain level of state support to denominational
Australia, France,
Freedom of
instruction with
- The main policy goal is to guarantee freedom of
instruction but ensuring equivalence between
private subsidized and public schools.
- In many cases, the original aim was to incorpo-
rate faith-based providers into the ‘public sys-
Belgium (French and
Flemish Communities),
Spain, England (religious
schools), Netherlands,
Market approach
- Private subsidized schools emerged as a conse-
quence of pro-market (ideological) reforms.
- Although this type combines policy goals of other
types, the distinctive characteristic is the (initial)
aim of promoting competition as a means to im-
prove effectiveness and equity.
Chile, Sweden
- Autonomy as the main driver of effectiveness, in-
novation and equity improvement
- New modalities of school are envisaged as the
means to overcome state schools lack of auton-
- Frequently, this type can be considered as a sec-
ond generation (or second best) of pro-market
US, Canada (CS- Alberta),
England (Academies and
Free Schools)
- Private subsidized providers or other forms of
PPPs such as charter schools are adopted to re-
spond to primary or secondary education expan-
- Private subsidized schools oriented to comple-
ment the places shortages of State schools or ‘fill
the gap’ in those areas which the government is
not able to attend properly.
- Relative weak regulations in issues such as add-
on tuition or selective admissions, as well as prob-
lems of enforcement.
Colombia, Liberia,
Source: Adapted from Zancajo, Verger & Fontdevila (2021).
The second key factor behind the diversity of the regulatory frameworks of education PPPs is related
to the economic, political, social and/or historical characteristics of the national contexts in which
PPPs are adopted. For instance, in the case of the US, the fragmentation of political power and the
existence of multiple veto points along the policy-making process, have prevented the adoption of
school voucher schemes at federal level, and have facilitated the advance of other forms of PPPs that
enjoy more bi-partisan support, such as charter schools (Klitgaard, 2008). Path-dependence and
historical factors appear as determinants of the PPPs’ reforms adopted in some countries and the way
in which they are regulated. In Denmark, the relevance of self-assessment and self-regulation of
private education providers can be partially explained by the fact that these schools were created as
a means of protecting education from what was considered an excessive influence of the State over
faith-based institutions. This historical feature has decisively shaped the different accountability and
evaluation regulations applied to private subsidized and public schools in this Nordic country (Olsen,
Interest groups are frequently portrayed as mediating agents in the adoption and design of PPPs. As
Baldwin et al. (2012) point out, certain groups of actors have more capacity to influence the
regulations of a specific social domain. In the case of education PPPs, the cases of Belgium, the
Netherlands or Spain show how political pressure, exerted by faith-based institutions, have played a
crucial role in the adoption, regulation and permanence of publicly-funded private schools as a
significant faction of the educational offer (Bonal, 2000; Verger et al., 2016). In the US, a wide range
of interest groups, from neoliberal and conservative think-tanks to organizations representing
minority groups, are crucial to understanding the adoption and expansion of charter school
legislations (DeBray-Pelot, Lubienski & Scott, 2007). Indeed, the literature has shown how
privatization and pro-market reforms tend to create new interest groups (e.g., private providers'
associations or families with children enrolled in private subsidized schools) with the potential of
generating a lock-in effect should attempts be made to revert or reform these policies or drastically
alter the way in which they are regulated (Carnoy, 2003; Delvaux & Maroy, 2009; Zancajo, 2019).
Finally, other authors emphasize the role of partisan politics, influencing the adoption and the policy
design of education PPPs. For instance, in her study of privatization and marketization reforms in
different European countries, Gingrich (2011) concludes that social democratic parties tend to
emphasize the State capacity of control in their regulation, while conservative parties are more
inclined to promote market mechanisms, such as choice and competition. Nonetheless, social
democrats are less reluctant to adopt market mechanisms in education within socially equal societies
than in contexts where high levels of inequalities prevail (Hicks, 2015). Similarly, in the US, Köppe
(2017) identifies significant differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties regarding
their regulatory approach to charter schools. Although both parties have actively promoted the
expansion of these types of schools, Democrats are more inclined to adopt strict regulations that
reduce the role of market mechanisms and guarantee equal access, whereas Republicans tend to
support a more pro-market and pro-choice approach.
3.2. Key regulatory dimensions
Existing research examines different regulatory dimensions of education PPPs in a fragmented way.
To the best of our knowledge, a comprehensive framework that synthesizes all the relevant
dimensions involved in the design of these policies has not been systematized yet. To overcome this
gap, we have developed a framework that summarizes the most relevant dimensions of regulation
relating to education PPPs, namely, authorization of providers, funding, school choice and admissions,
autonomy, evaluation, accountability and teachers' workforce.
The main characteristics of each dimension are shown in Table 2.
Table 2. Education PPPs dimensions of regulation
Authorization of
Legal provisions which establish the
requirements that educational providers
need to comply with in order to be eligible to
receive public funding. Beyond basic
eligibility requirements, some education
systems also establish different
authorization criteria that allow to the into
account the potential impact of the new
provider on dimensions such as effectiveness
or equity.
- Eligibility requirements.
- Criteria to fund a new pro-
This dimension includes the regulation of the
level of public funding received by private
providers, the criteria followed to distribute
public resources, and what expenses can be
covered with these funds. Some PPP policies
also regulate private funding (e.g., families,
private sector, donors) that private
subsidized providers are allowed to receive.
- Level of funding.
- Type of funding (non-cate-
gorical funds, categorical
funds, direct provision of
- Funding distribution (per-
capita, formula funding).
- Private contributions
(families, private sector,
School choice
and admissions
In some national contexts, the regulation of
PPPs also includes legal provisions on how
the process of school choice should be
organized or the admission processes
schools should follow.
- School admission require-
- Priority criteria.
- Assignment mechanisms.
Publicly funded private providers can enjoy
different levels of autonomy regarding the
curricular, pedagogical or managerial
- Curricular.
- Pedagogical.
- Managerial.
Evaluation and
Publicly funded private schools should follow
different requirements regarding evaluation
and accountability. This dimension includes
government inspections but also other
evaluation and accountability requirements,
as well as the participation in external
- Inspections.
- Participation in external
assessments and final ex-
- Accountability require-
ments (financial, curricu-
lar, pedagogical).
The regulation of teaching professionals is
one of the key dimensions of regulation for
private subsidized schools. This dimension
includes certification requirements and work
- Certification require-
- Hiring and firing proce-
- Salaries.
Source: Authors’ elaboration.
3.3. The equity challenges of PPPs: a focus on the mechanisms
Regulation has the potential to improve or compensate PPPs' negative effects on equity. Nonetheless,
for regulation to be effective, it is necessary to consider the social mechanisms that explain how PPPs
- and the market mechanisms PPPs trigger - produce or foster educational inequalities (Zancajo &
Bonal, 2020). Mechanism-based approaches provide a better understanding of the educational and
social dynamics that PPPs promote, with a focus on the responses that these policies generate among
educational actors (e.g., schools, families, students, etc.) and how, in turn, these responses affect
equity. Furthermore, the analysis of PPPs' impact on equity needs to consider that the involvement of
private providers in education does not necessarily increase inequalities per se, but that inequalities
are rather the result of market mechanisms (such as choice or competition) that frequently
accompany the adoption of PPPs. For instance, existing evidence shows how families’ strategies of
choice or schools’ logics of action, responding to competitive incentives, explain why and how PPPs
tend to lead to educational inequalities, social stratification among schools and the marginalization of
most socially disadvantaged students (Verger, Bonal & Zancajo, 2016; Jabbar, 2015; Woods, Bagley &
Glatter, 1998; van Zanten, 2009). In the following pages, we will present each of these mechanisms
and argue why they represent equity challenges for educational systems. Specifically, we will focus on
three main mechanisms, namely the socioeconomic stratification between public and private schools,
the inequitable distribution of resources between the public and private sectors and the discretion of
private providers.
Socioeconomic stratification between private and public schools and school segregation
Education systems in which public and private subsidized schools coexist, tend to present higher levels
of social stratification between schools and school segregation, usually in favor of private institutions
(see, for example, OECD, 2012; Alegre & Ferrer, 2010). The higher level of stratification and school
segregation, associated with PPPs, can be explained by five key mechanisms or enabling conditions.
Firstly, per-capita funding, a frequent characteristic of PPPs, incentivizes schools not just to attract as
much demand as possible but also to select the most academically able or socially advantaged
students, who are perceived as less ‘costly’ to educate (van Zanten, 2009). Secondly, in the context of
school choice expansion, self-selection dynamics, unequal preferences of schooling or strategies of
choice among social groups, also contribute to stratification between schools and to school
segregation dynamics. Thirdly, oversupply due to the low entry barriers that characterize most PPPs
can create opportunities for most advantaged students to switch from their local public schools to
private option, phenomenon commonly known as ‘white-flight’. Fourthly, the unequal distribution of
private schools, frequently located in urban and socially advantaged areas, also reduces the choice
options of certain social groups, and contributes to the concentration of similar profiles of students in
certain schools. Finally, in a context of competition, educational institutions can face incentives to
develop specific religious, linguistic or philosophical orientations as a means of attracting more
advantaged social groups, which in turn, can inadvertently foster discrimination or exclusion of
minority groups.
Regarding stratification and segregation, three main dimensions of regulation have the potential to
compensate or inhibit the mechanisms that induce their effects. Firstly, as part of the authorization
process of new providers, public education authorities can establish requirements that consider
education planning criteria and avoid oversupply situations, guarantee a more balanced distribution
of private and public schools or prevent the overrepresentation of certain religious, linguistic or
philosophical orientations. Secondly, the regulation of school funding can also play an important role
in reducing student selection practices or self-exclusion dynamics. For instance, needs-based funding
schemes can make educationally or socially disadvantaged students more ‘attractive’ and can inhibit
the incentive that certain schools face to exclude them. The prohibition of add-on tuition fees or the
establishment of tuition caps can also impact positively on equity, by eliminating the economic access
barriers faced by certain students, eliminating price discrimination or reducing the potential processes
of self-exclusion (Baum et al., 2014; Boeskens, 2016). Thirdly, in the case of school choice, regulations
oriented to increase the level of centralization of the system, have the potential to ensure fairer access
to schools, avoiding the practices of subtle selection, inhibiting the arbitrary criteria of admissions,
compensating for the asymmetries of information between advantaged and disadvantaged social
groups and inhibiting the effects of choice strategies developed by middle- and upper-middle-class
families (Elacqua, Iribarren & Santos, 2018). At the same time, the pro-equity criteria of prioritization
or the imposing of quotas on the number of places, can facilitate the access of previously excluded
students to certain schools, impacting positively on school segregation (Elacqua et al., 2018; OECD,
Inequitable distribution of school resources
Education PPPs can also generate, by design or by default, an inequitable distribution of school
resources. For instance, allowing family or other private financial contributions for schools can result
in an uneven distribution of funding resources between schools. At the same time, the dynamics of
social and educational stratification explained above also have consequences in terms of inequalities
regarding the distribution of school resources. In contexts of flat per-capita funding, schools
concentrating on high proportions of socially disadvantaged students assume higher costs as
compared with schools with advantaged student bodies, with the same level of resources. Finally,
unequal distribution can also affect human resources, particularly teachers. In the context of high
managerial school autonomy, schools can be incentivized to recruit less qualified or less skilled
teachers as a means of reducing their costs. Therefore, high levels of school autonomy over human
resources are can give rise to teacher sorting dynamics or even to the segmentation of the teacher
labor market
. It is thus possible to assume that school autonomy in relation to teacher employment
and compensation exacerbates the inequalities in students’ access to educational opportunities.
Regarding the inequitable distribution of resources, school funding regulations can play a key role in
compensating for those inequalities. On the one hand, the prohibition of add-on tuition fees or the
use of sliding scales, which assign public funding as an inverse proportion of a school’s fees, can be
policy options that compensate for the inequalities in school resources. On the other hand, the
adoption of some form of needs-based funding schemes enables the distribution of public funding
according not only to their level of enrolment but also their student characteristics, making it possible
to provide additional resources to those schools serving a higher proportion of disadvantaged
students. In the case of teachers, regulations oriented towards unifying the credential requirements
and hiring requirements, can prevent schools from relying on less qualified teachers and reduce the
segmentation of the teachers’ labor market.
Directionality of private providers and lack of alignment with policy goals
The last equity challenge of PPPs in education concerns the misalignment regarding the system-level
objectives as a consequence of the discretion of private providers in the application of regulations and
norms (e.g., curriculum, school admissions or add-on tuition fees). Frequently, the high level of school
autonomy that characterizes most PPPs, coupled with the absence of appropriate quality-assurance
mechanisms, the lack of relevant information relating to private subsidized providers or the limited
capacity of public authorities to oversee the activity of private subsidized providers, can lead to high
levels of directionality in the practices developed by schools. PPPs frequently involve a legal
accountability relationship between the State and the private sector through a juridical contract, in
which the rights and duties of all parties involved in the arrangement are specified. Nonetheless, as
That is, the split of the teacher labor market into a primary segment, offering high wages and desirable working
conditions, and attracting the more skilled professionals and a secondary sector, offering lower-paying posts
and less job stability, and represented by the least-skilled professionals (cf. Gulosino, Ni & Rorrer, 2019; Cannata,
we will develop in section 4, these contracts do not necessarily cover all the possible dimensions of
In this regard, the regulation of evaluation and accountability schemes can play a strategic role in
ensuring that all publicly-funded schools, independently of their ownership, are correctly aligned with
the quality standards and regulations, as well as the equity goals and objectives set by the government
(Hooge, Burns & Wilkoszewski, 2012). Administrative accountability schemes are frequently
presented as a way of solving the potential principal-agent problems that emerge in different policy
domains. Principal-agent problem can arise in relation to many types of public services configurations,
but are more frequent in the context of PPPs, given the fact that private providers tend to enjoy high
levels of autonomy, a broad decision-making capacity and their goals are not necessarily aligned with
the goals of the contracting element. This is particularly the case among governments that try to
promote educational opportunities through PPPs, since one of the most common challenges in PPPs
is to neutralize the tendency of private providers to select students or charge fees to families (Gauri
& Vawda, 2004). Another important function of accountability policies in PPPs is to make sure that all
publicly-funded schools comply with the minimum quality standards.
Wrapping up
Breaking down the PPPs' social mechanisms affecting equity and viewing them in relation to the
regulatory dimensions presented above, allow us to identify which regulatory dimensions and policy
options can inhibit or compensate the emergence of equity challenges. Nonetheless, the relationship
between regulatory initiatives and educational equity is far from linear. It is important to point out
that the effect of any PPP regulatory framework depends on how the different dimensions of
regulation interact with one other (Boeskens, 2016). For instance, the potential effectiveness of
different school choice regulations regarding their capacity to reduce school segregation, can be
mediated or affected by the design of school funding regulations. In this regard, the capacity of
families to exercise choice can be very constrained if, for instance, add-on tuition fees are allowed
(Elacqua, Montt & Santos, 2013). Similarly, the enforcement and the impact of different provisions on
certain regulatory dimensions, such as the prohibition of selective admissions or add-on tuition fees,
frequently depend on the design and effectiveness evaluation and accountability systems to monitor
their accomplishment and avoid discretional practices.
To conclude this section, in Table 3, we summarize how the different regulatory dimensions interact
with the equity challenges of PPPs. The table provides us with the specific categories and lines of
inquiry that have guided our analysis.
Table 3. PPPs equity challenges, dimensions of regulation and policy options.
Equity challenges
Enabling conditions or
mechanisms at play
Dimensions of regulation and policy options
Authorization of
School choice and
Evaluation and
between public
and private schools
and school
Self-selection dynamics
and differences in
families’ preferences
and patterns of school
Prohibition or
limitation of fees
Centralization of the
school choice and
admissions procedures
Priority access for
disadvantaged students
Student selection
based on ability or
socioeconomic status
and/or discrimination
against specific social
groups (e.g., along
religious or ethnic
Needs-based funding
Centralization of the
school choice and
admissions procedures
Reducing school
autonomy in the
admission process and
minimizing room for
arbitrary decisions
Oversupply of school
places exacerbating
school competition
dynamics and
facilitating ‘white-
Use of educational
planning criteria in the
authorization of new
private subsidized
Unequal distribution of
private subsidized
schools across the local
Use of educational
planning criteria in the
authorization of new
private subsidized
Over-representation of
certain religious,
linguistic or
Ensuring the diversity
of private subsidized
provision to make it
orientations within the
private subsidized
accessible to different
social groups
distribution of
human and
resources available
to schools
Uneven level of private
Prohibition or
limitation of fees
Unequal distribution of
students translating
into unequal expenses
for schools
Needs-based funding
Unequal distribution of
more experienced or
skilled teachers in
particular school
Harmonization of
qualification require-
ments and licensing
procedure, and
equalization of salary
scales and working
conditions for public
and private subsidized
Discretionality of
private subsidized
providers and
limited alignment
with system-level
Lack of information on
private subsidized
providers /limited
oversight on the part
of public authorities
Allowing for a rigorous
monitoring of all
providers; and for the
detection of irregular
High levels of school
Ensuring a minimum
standard of quality in
terms of educational
process and outcomes
Source: Authors’ elaboration
3.4. Methodological approach
Analysis of the literature
This paper is based on an analysis of available literature addressing the theme of PPP regulation in the
field of education, whether from a comparative or a country-specific perspective. Two main sources
of evidence have been considered: academic research and grey literature (i.e., documents produced
by specialized organizations in the form of reports or working papers, and not distributed by a
conventional publisher).
For the identification of relevant academic outputs, we relied on a systematic approach oriented
towards maximizing the plurality of perspectives and minimizing bias. To this end, a search was
conducted in the main international academic repositories (i.e., Scopus and Web of Science), as well
as the key repositories for French and Spanish scientific literature (i.e., HAL and Revues/OpenEditions
Search and Dialnet, respectively). Searches were conducted on the basis of a common syntaxis,
derived from the research questions guiding this paper
. The syntax can be consulted in the annex of
the paper, and consists of three main groups of keywords:
a) Different denominations of education PPPs oriented towards capturing the different mo-
dalities of this policy.
b) Dimensions of regulation and specific regulatory instruments oriented towards ruling out
those evaluation studies, focusing exclusively on the impact of PPPs, with limited considera-
tion for the regulatory environment in which these programs operate.
c) Selected cases (i.e., the name of the country and locally relevant PPP programs or related
Based on the results retrieved from these searches, a two-step selection process was conducted,
with a first screening based on the title, and a second screening based on the abstract.
Note that the search protocol restricted the scope of the review to those documents published in
English, Spanish or French.
Table 4. Overview of the screening process
Global North
Global South
Total academic repositories
Excluding duplicates
Web of Science
First screening
Second screening
Additional sources (hand-picked)
Source: Authors’ elaboration.
The corpus of literature identified on the basis of academic databases was complemented with a
number of manual searches. This was oriented at compensating for different research gaps identified
in the initial corpus of the selected documents. These additional sources were identified through a
series of ad-hoc, country-specific searches on Google Scholar a less discriminating academic search
engine, more likely to bring up relevant grey literature or academic literature aimed at a domestic
audience and not indexed in the main academic repositories. Finally, the repositories and online
libraries of selected international organizations were also reviewed in order to identify relevant pieces
of research, addressing the PPP regulation debate, whether from a comparative or a country-specific
perspective. Table 4 below offers an overview of the number of products identified and selected at
different stages of the screening process.
This combination of data sources and search strategies enabled us to compile a geographically
balanced body of research. Table 5 below offers a breakdown of the reviewed papers, according to
their geographical focus. The selected papers were reviewed, with the relevant information collected
and systematized in the form of country-specific extraction sheets. The country sheets synthesized
the most relevant information related to the different dimensions of the regulatory framework of each
of the PPPs in place in the country, with a particular focus on the reform of or changes to the regulatory
Table 5. Distribution of the literature by countries
Papers from academic
Additional sources
Slovak Rep.
Source: Authors’ elaboration.
Limitations of the study
It should be noted that, despite the advantages of the systematic literature review methodology in
terms of diversity and transparency, such a strategy has certain limitations. Firstly, this approach tends
to reproduce or even amplify certain research biases, specifically, the over-representation of certain
countries and regions, and the under-representation of others. While Anglo-Saxon and Western
countries, in general, are the object of a large body of scholarship, PPPs in low- and middle-income
countries have been significantly less studied. These asymmetries are mainly explained by the fact
that PPPs are a comparatively recent phenomenon in the Global South. However, such gaps ultimately
indicate a persistent divide between central and peripheral areas in terms of research production,
funding and dissemination.
A second limitation of this methodological approach is associated with the evolving nature of
regulatory frameworks, and the fact that, in many countries, the PPP regulation debate is already an
incipient one. Thus, while a number of countries have engaged in processes of PPP reform over the
last few years, such transformations have not always been captured by academic literature, which
necessarily lags behind real-time changes.
Finally, it is important to bear in mind that regulatory frameworks, processes or issues rarely constitute
the main object of PPP scholarship. Consequently, regulatory frameworks are sometimes described in
a rather superficial and descriptive way. There is thus limited evidence on the political economy or the
implementation process behind these reforms. Such absences render it particularly difficult to assess
the effectiveness and feasibility of certain policy options, as well as the trade-offs and challenges they
are likely to pose to different education systems.
4. Regulating towards equity: international trends and
policy options in PPPs for education
In this chapter, we present the main results of our analysis of the literature, according to the following
regulatory dimensions: authorization of providers, funding, school admissions and choice, autonomy,
evaluation, accountability and teachers' workforce. For each of these dimensions, we briefly discuss
the available policy options, more clearly aligned with an equity agenda, and then we present the
experience of different countries in relation to the adoption and implementation of such measures.
4.1. Authorization of providers
The eligibility criteria of PPP providers and the corresponding authorization procedures determine
which types of schools can receive public funding.
In most PPP programs, there are either no educational planning criteria, or demand is the main
criterion take into account to authorize a new publicly-funded private provider. Indeed, frequently,
private providers only need to demonstrate a certain level of (potential) demand to be eligible to
receive public subsidies. This market-based approach in the authorization of providers tends to be
more conducive to school segregation and social stratification between schools. In contrast, a more
active role of the State in the process of providers’ authorization can contribute to reducing the
negative externalities, produced by market-led approaches, in which access to education provision is
highly liberalized. Stricter regulations in this dimension take into consideration not only the level of
educational demand, but also how the new schools requesting public funding can affect the
composition of the school supply, students’ enrolment patterns or the effects of new offers on the
sorting of students.
Despite the prominence of social demand as a criterion to authorize private providers to receive public
funding or to create new PPP schools, more recently, different PPP programs have started to consider
education planning criteria within authorization processes
. Another approach to regulating the
authorization of new publicly-funded providers is the implementation of competitive bidding
processes to select them. This policy option provides the educational authorities with an increased
capacity to determine the profile of providers accessing public funding and to apply educational
planning criteria in the process of new providers' authorization.
The role of education planning criteria
Several countries in which social demand was the main criterion used to authorize new private
subsidized providers have adopted regulatory reforms to give education planning criteria a more
relevant role. These reforms do not necessarily mean that social demand is no longer considered when
authorizing new providers, but factors relating to the existing school supply or the impact of new
providers on other schools are also considered.
In the mid-nineties, Sweden reformed the authorization process of new providers to avoid an
uncontrolled expansion of private subsidized schools and to increase the role of the State in the
planning of school supply. The new regulations established that the public agency in charge of the
authorization of new private subsidized providers would apply what Sahlgren (2016) terms as the ‘no
harm requirement’. This requirement establishes that the opening of a new subsidized school should
not have a negative effect on public schools located in the same area. It is considered that the
establishment of a new private subsidized provider negatively affects public schools if it reduces their
level of enrolment significantly to the extent of forcing their closure. This requirement is also
oriented to avoid ‘market failures’ relating to situations of oversupply or the instability of private
Although this is not developed in the academic literature, we distinguish between social demand and
educational planning in the criteria used in the authorization process of publicly-funded providers. In this regard,
social criteria use indicators relating to the number of students or families interested in enrolling in the school.
By contrast, the educational planning criteria refer to the use of the number of places or the diversity of existing
educational providers as the basis for authorizing a new provider.
supply (Meyland-Smith & Evans, 2009; Miron, 1996; Sahlgren, 2016). However, in practical terms, the
percentage of applications of new providers that have been denied on the basis of such
considerations, has tended to remain relatively low (Sahlgren, 2016).
Similar considerations relative to the school supply have also acquired greater centrality in the state
of California. Its government has recently passed a bill establishing more discerning entry criteria for
the establishment of new charter schools. According to the original charter law, adopted in 1992,
school districts were required to authorize any charter school that met basic requirements an
arrangement that, according to certain critics (most notably, teacher unions), has led to the
uncontrolled growth of the charter school sector, undermining local control and potentially putting
school districts under financial strain (Fensterwald, 2019; Luna, 2019). In response to such concerns,
the adoption of the Assembly Bill 1505 in 2019 allows charter authorizers to take into consideration
how the new charter school would affect public school districts. More specifically, the new bill
stipulates additional criteria, on the basis of which, districts are permitted to turn down a charter
school proposal for instance, if the new charter is deemed unlikely to serve the interests of the
community by undermining or duplicating the existing offer, or if the school district is in a difficult
financial situation that would be exacerbated by the opening of a new charter school (CTA, 2019;
CCSA, 2019a).
Another criterion of authorization involves the schools’ contribution to the diversity of the education
system. In the Netherlands, to be eligible to receive public funding, new private providers, until very
recently, have had to demonstrate not only their capacity to attract a sufficient level of demand, but
also to what extent they contribute to the diversity of school supply. The school ‘philosophy’ (richting),
which can be defined as a specific worldview (either religious or ideological) is taken into account to
assess how the school contributes to the diversity of school supply. Schools are required to
demonstrate they are offering a specific philosophy that is not already covered by other schools in the
area where they plan to settle (Maussen & Vermeulen, 2015; Vermeulen, 2004). However, the
implementation of this criterion as part of the authorization process of new providers, has faced
different implementation challenges and has been subject to criticism. Firstly, this is because the
regulation establishes that the school ‘philosophy’ needs to be ‘recognized’, i.e., it needs to have a
significant foothold in society, beyond the education sector. As a consequence, minority religious
groups in the country frequently face difficulties with regard to receiving public funding (Walford,
2003). Secondly, it is often difficult to determine to what extent a school ‘philosophy’ is significantly
distinctive from others in the same local area, which can induce the adoption of arbitrary decisions
(Vermeulen, 2004; Walford, 2003). Given these difficulties and ambiguities, certain organizations and
groups have for a long time advocated the reconsidering or even the suppressing of school philosophy
criteria (Franken & Vermeer, 2019; Maussen & Vermeulen, 2015). Despite the resistance to such
demands, particularly among Christian political parties, a recently approved law (More Room for New
Schools Act, passed on May 2020) addresses these concerns by modifying the ‘philosophy’ criterion.
Thus, starting in June 2021, new schools no longer need to prove that they adhere to a recognized
philosophy, and the school philosophy will no longer play a decisive role in the school authorization
process (VNG, 2020; Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, 2020).
In Belgium (French-speaking and Flemish communities), the diversity of school supply is also an
eligibility criterion for new publicly-funded private providers. In this case, the authorization process of
new providers takes into account the social demand for the new school, but also the distance
(modulated by the population density) to other schools with similar educational projects or
pedagogical orientations (Ministère de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles - Direction des Relations
Internationales, 2016; Vlaams Ministerie van Onderwijs en Vorming, 2020).
In the case of Chile, the educational reform, introduced in 2015, within the so-called Inclusion Law
(Ley de Inclusión) combined both the existing school supply and the contribution to the diversity of
the education system, as criteria for the authorization of new providers. The new private providers
need to meet one of the following conditions to be eligible to receive public funding: 1) the existence
of unsatisfied enrolment demand in the local area not covered by other publicly-funded schools
(private subsidized or public), 2) the absence of a similar educational project in the area (Ley 20845,
Bidding process and eligibility requirements
Other countries have established bidding processes to which private providers, seeking to obtain
public funding are requested to apply. For instance, Ireland has recently modified to a great extent,
the way in which private providers are authorized to receive public subsidies through this type of
bidding process. While in the past public funding for private providers was subjected to a few basic
requirements (e.g., facilities standards, official curriculum, etc.) (Buchanan & Fox, 2008), since 2011,
the Ministry of Education (Department of Education and Skills) has assumed a more active role in the
authorization process of new private subsidized providers. Currently, private providers’ access to
public funding is determined on the basis of a bidding process. The Irish government identifies local
areas where the school supply needs to increase because of demographic changes and releases
competitive tenders to select new, private, subsidized providers. This bidding process allows public
authorities not only to increase their control over the publicly-funded school supply, but also to
guarantee diversity among new education providers, thus responding to the increasing religious
pluralism in the country (Department of Education and Skills, 2020).
The use of procurement or bidding processes to select new, publicly-funded providers is particularly
common among charter school programs. However, in this case, the use of competitive tenders is not
oriented towards increasing control over the school supply but is aimed at targeting a particular school
profile and selecting the management organizations. For instance, the Partnership Schools for Liberia
(PSL) and the Schools in Concession (Colegios en Concesión, CEC) program in Bogotá (Colombia)
regarded bidding processes as an important tool for selecting private providers responsible for the
management of public-owned schools. In the case of Liberia, competitive tenders were adopted as a
result of the controversy regarding the initial bilateral agreement between the government and the
Bridge International Academies because there was deemed to be a monopoly on contracting
(Cameron, 2019; Romero, Sandefur & Sandholtz, 2020). However, as Cameron (2019) points out, even
then the process was not considered sufficiently competitive and transparent. Similar implementation
problems were reported in the case of the charter schools' program in Colombia. In this case, Edwards,
DeMatthews and Hartley (2017) consider that the process was not competitive for two main reasons.
Firstly, the government selected an initial pool of providers, based on the test results of their schools
in other areas and these providers were directly invited to take part in the bidding process. Secondly,
the criteria that applicants had to meet was extensive and the per-capita funding, provided by the
government, was fixed before the process. As a result, it was difficult for many of the potential
providers to become eligible and the government had to persuade most of the providers to participate
in the process.
The charter school program, Education Management Organizations, developed in the Pakistani
province of Sindhi also includes a competitive process of bidding to select the organizations in charge
of the management of schools. This bidding process involves two different phases. Firstly, the
technical capacity of the management organizations that have applied is considered. Technical
capacity is assessed, based on the organization’s previous management experience, the work plan
proposed to manage the schools, the profile of the professionals proposed, the strategies proposed
to achieve the performance and the efficiency targets required. In the second phase of the evaluation,
the management organizations which have qualified in the first phase are assessed on the basis of the
financial proposal presented (LaRocque & Sipahimalani-Rao, 2019).
In Pakistan, we also find per-capita subsidies programs that include complex entry processes for
private schools. For example, in Punjab, the Foundation Assisted Schools (FAS) program established a
three-phase process to select the participating providers. One of these phases consists of an
inspection visit to the schools that have previously applied via open tender, conducted by the officials
in charge of the program. In this inspection, the infrastructure of the school or the pupil-teacher ratio
is assessed (Bano, 2008). Furthermore, the selection process also includes an academic performance
test completed by students already enrolled in the schools (Barrera-Osorio & Raju, 2015).
Finally, Chile has recently modified the requirements for private subsidized providers, so not all types
of providers are able to receive public funding. The 2015 Inclusion Law establishes that for-profit
providers are eligible to receive public funding (Bellei, 2016). This change in the eligibility criteria of
private subsidized providers was adopted to guarantee that all public funding was dedicated to
educational activities (not private benefits). The existing for-profit private subsidized providers have
been given a two-year transition period to become not-for-profit organizations if they wish to
maintain public funding (Muñoz & Weinstein, 2019).
4.2. Funding
School funding is a determinant dimension in the regulation of PPPs. Funding instruments are
especially important in terms of their implications for educational equity (Elacqua et al., 2018; Levin,
2002; OECD, 2019). This is so for two separate, albeit intertwined reasons. Firstly, funding regulations
are necessary to guarantee that students across the system are afforded the same educational
opportunities and receive educational support according to their needs, thus preventing or addressing
achievement gaps between public and private schools. Secondly, funding regulations also have an
impact on the very distribution of students across schools. In marketized contexts like those created
by many PPP frameworks, school choice and school admissions processes are directly shaped by
tuition fees and the value of per student subsidies. Therefore, funding decisions are of fundamental
importance in preventing the concentration of socially disadvantaged students in particular school
tiers, and in attenuating social stratification dynamics across schools.
Policy options regarding the funding of PPPs can be classed into two main categories. The first category
concerns the regulation of private funding received by schools, particularly the regulation of tuition
fees and other parental contributions. From an equity perspective, the most frequent option is the
blanket prohibition of tuition fees and parental add-ons
, which is frequently paralleled by a rise in
While this discussion primarily applies to universal programs, the prohibition of parental add-ons is a crucial
feature of targeted vouchers, i.e., programs that provide private schools with per-capita grants for certain
categories of students. Since these are often explicitly oriented towards increasing access to private schools for
the level of public subsidies. Other options include the imposition of tuition caps or the use of sliding
scales, according to which public funding is in inverse proportion to the school’s fees charged to
families. These arrangements are oriented towards widening access to private schools and ensuring a
certain equality in the availability of resources at school level. The second category of pro-equity
funding regulations concerns the criteria used in the allocation and distribution of public funds to
private schools. Here, we find PPP funding schemes that account for student characteristics and that
provide supplementary resources to schools serving disadvantaged populations. These measures can
be grouped under the heading of compensatory funding mechanisms (see Box 3) and are more
frequently found in high-income countries and in those countries with long-established PPP schemes.
Box 3. Compensatory funding mechanisms: formula funding and targeted programs
The notion of compensatory or needs-based funding encompasses any resource allocation
mechanism explicitly oriented towards assigning additional resources (financial, human or
otherwise) to those schools serving a higher share of disadvantaged students. In practice, this
category includes two distinct policy options, namely:
- Needs-based formula funding is a particular approach to the allocation and distribution of
resources that takes into account school-specific needs resulting from the characteristics
of the student body, the school site or the school program rather than giving schools the
same allocation per student (Caldwell, Levačić & Ross, 1999; Levačić & Ross, 1999). School
funding formulas with an equity rationale explicitly acknowledge that certain students are
more ‘costly’ to educate than others, and that schools should be funded accordingly. Thus,
they focus on a series of student characteristics that are considered to indicate some form
of disadvantage including low socioeconomic status, home language being different from
the language of instruction, learning difficulties or low educational achievement (Fazekas,
2012; Levačić & Ross, 1999).
- Targeted schemes are those that provide schools serving specific student groups with ad-
ditional resources. Unlike formula funding programs, targeted schemes are external to the
main resource-allocation mechanism and take the form of a separate grant, which is often
made conditional on specific accountability requirements or the development of quality
improvement or spending plans (OECD, 2017c).
Regulating tuition fees
An early example of the full elimination of school fees in exchange for increased public funding can be
found in Sweden. When private subsidized schools were introduced in the early 1990s, they received
disadvantaged or underserved populations, they usually prevent schools from demanding fees from voucher-
eligible students, as in the case of the EVS program in Pakistan (Rabbani, Hameed & ul Haq, 2014).
a subsidy per student amounting to 85% of the cost in public schools. This reduction was partially
justified by the fact that private subsidized schools were allowed to charge families tuition fees, and
were thus able to cover the remaining 15% (Klitgaard, 2008; Miron, 1996). This policy was abolished
in 1996 by a reform which established that private subsidized schools should be free of charge and
fully funded by the State. The change was oriented towards reducing financial barriers for low-income
families and promoting greater equality in terms of access to private schools, and it was followed by
the introduction of other pro-equity measures. Thus, not only private subsidized schools were banned
from charging tuition fees, but they were also required to refrain from selective practices and to rely
on the same admission criteria as public schools (Lachance, 2020; Wiborg, 2015).
A more recent example of funding equalization dynamics can be found in Chile. In 2015, the Inclusion
Law put an end to the possibility of private subsidized schools charging tuition fees. Such a change is
however expected to be implemented gradually, and schools abolishing fees are to be financially
compensated for the loss of revenue. To this end, a new public subsidy has been created. This is known
as the ‘gratuity grant’, and its value is expected to be progressively raised. Thus, those schools with
tuition fees equal to or lower than the gratuity grant will immediately be become free of charge. As
for the rest of the schools, they have been requested to freeze tuition fees, and to progressively reduce
those fees as the value of the gratuity grant increases. Schools choosing to maintain tuition fees will
no longer qualify for public subsidies, thus becoming fully private schools (Treviño, 2018; Silva & Urzúa,
This progressive phasing out of tuition fees is not expected to be completed until 2025. The gradual
nature in the implementation of the measure is not without risks, as this might create a sense of
uncertainty among certain stakeholders (Santiago et al., 2017). However, the gradual character of the
policy has been critical not only in guaranteeing the financial viability of the reform, but also in
securing the political and social buy-in necessary for the adoption of the law, and in reducing
resistance on the part of private providers and families (Zancajo, 2019). While the graduality if the
process makes it difficult to estimate the effects of the policy measure, preliminary evidence points to
certain unintended effects. Some observers have argued that the abolition of school fees might
contribute to the decline in public school enrollment, since it reduces one of the main access barriers
to private subsidized schools. Therefore, one of the potential unintended consequences of the
prohibition of school fees is the acceleration of an already existing trend the decreasing enrollment
in the public sector (Navarro & Gysling, 2017; Sisto, 2019).
In other cases, eliminating tuition fees is a prerequisite for private schools seeking to take part in PPP
schemes. This is the case of the subsidies policy launched in 2007 in Uganda as part of the Universal
Secondary Education (USE) program. The USE program was oriented towards broadening access to
secondary education. To this end, the government established a system of per student subsidies as a
means of reduce schooling costs typically absorbed by families, and unaffordable for low-income
households. In response to limited public secondary school infrastructure, the program was extended
to private schools as a means of quickly increasing supply (Barrera-Osorio et al., 2020; Omoeva & Gale,
2016). In order to receive public subsidies, private schools are requested to refrain from charging fees
to those students benefitting from the voucher, under the assumption that the public subsidy will
defray the totality of tuition expenses for these students
(Barrera-Osorio et al., 2020; Baum, 2018).
In practice, however, there is evidence that private (and public) schools continue to charge tuition
fees to voucher beneficiaries, albeit at a lower rate (Crawfurd, 2017). In addition, certain schools
continue to collect informal fees and request parental contributions in exchange for basic school
services. Such irregularities are seen as the result of a weak regulatory environment and limited
government supervision, but also as a result of the fact that subsidies per student are excessively low
and are insufficient to cover schooling costs (Brans, 2013; Omoeva & Gale, 2016; Twinomuhwezi,
2018). Such dynamics might explain the limited success of the Ugandan PPP policy from an equity
perspective and, as noted by Workadala and Barungi (2015), higher-income households are far more
likely to benefit from private school subsidies than less affluent families.
A different approach to regulating tuition fees can be found in Argentina, where a sliding scale system
has long been in place. As per the subsidies policy established in 1947 and modified by the 1991
reform, public subsidies are oriented towards defraying the cost of teacher salaries to a variable
extent. The exact percentage of teacher salaries subsidized by the State depends on a number of
factors, including the socioeconomic status of the student intake, the area served and the amount of
fees charged by the school. The system is oriented towards ensuring a certain level of progressivity in
public expenditure and towards fostering greater equality in school choice (Montoya & Frugoni, 2015;
Narodowski, Gottau & Moschetti, 2016). Therefore, only those schools not charging monthly fees are
allowed to receive subsidies representing 100% of the salary costs, although they can still charge a
limited fee for operating costs. As for the remainder of fee-charging schools, the value of the subsidy
The program is universal in scope all students are potentially eligible to receive a voucher. However, students
need to achieve a pass in the examination on leaving primary school in order to be eligible for free secondary
education, both in public and private subsidized schools. In addition, the program is being implemented
gradually starting with the lower grades and progressively adding new cohorts. Consequently, not all grades
in schools are eligible for a voucher, and both voucher recipients and self-sponsored students coexist in the same
schools. The prohibition of tuition fees only applies to the specific subset of students qualifying for the vouchers,
whereas schools can continue to demand tuition fees from students not eligible for vouchers (Barrera-Osorio et
al., 2020; Omoeva & Gale, 2016).
ranges between 40% and 80% of the total expenditure on teachers’ salaries, with public subsidies
being an inverse function of parental contributions, at least on paper (Moschetti, 2015;
Morduchowicz, 2002; Narodowski et al., 2016). In practice, these pro-equity criteria are often loosely
applied, and there are significant inconsistencies and asymmetries in the level of public funding
received by private schools and the fees charged by schools. This is a consequence of the fact that
current legislation does not define clear fund allocation formulas, nor does it specify which indicators
are to be used to operationalize the allocation criteria. Such vagueness leaves education
administrators with considerable room for discretion and allows for an inequitable or even regressive
distribution of public funds across private schools (Mezzadra & Rivas, 2010; Moschetti & Gottau,
Compensatory funding mechanisms
Over the last few decades, different countries have experimented with some form of formula funding,
targeted programs and similar schemes oriented towards compensating for the educational inequities
associated with PPPs. However, these are not entirely new schemes everywhere they constitute a
well-established feature of the Dutch, the Belgian and the Australian systems, for instance. In the
Netherlands, a system of weighted student funding has been in place since 1985. According to this
system, resources are allocated to schools on a per student basis and the value of the subsidy is greater
for certain categories of students identified as socially disadvantaged
, primarily on the basis of
parental education. The arrangement was explicitly devised as a mechanism to foster greater equality
across schools in a context of increasing school segregation a trend that resulted from the high levels
of school choice combined with an influx of immigrants in urban areas (Ladd & Fiske, 2011).
Compensatory policies also have a long tradition in the Flemish and French-speaking communities in
Belgium. They were adopted at the turn of the millennium in response to multiple inequalities
associated with school choice and the centrality acquired by private provision. In the case of the
Flemish community, the system currently in place was initiated in 2002 and consolidated in a reform
passed in 2008. As established by this last reform, the value of the operating grant allocated to both
public and government-dependent private schools is adjusted so that schools serving a higher share
Note that, in order to guarantee the financial viability of the scheme, additional subsidies are exclusively
allocated to schools concentrating on a certain share of disadvantaged pupils and additional subsidies are only
allocated to the number of students above this threshold, fixed at 6% since 2006 (Ladd & Fiske, 2011).
of disadvantaged students receive supplementary resources. To accomplish this principle, a share of
the annual budget for school operational costs is set aside, earmarked for compensatory purposes
and distributed among schools based on a wide range of indicators oriented towards capturing
different forms of disadvantage (De Witte et al., 2019; Flemish Department of Education and Training,
2014). In the case of the French-speaking community, a needs-based targeted funding scheme was
launched in 1998 and modified in 2009. The program aims at adjusting schools’ resources to the
socioeconomic origin of their students and relies on a funding-by-stages arrangement. Thus, schools
benefiting from the program are classified according to their average socioeconomic level, and each
group is given a weighting index which determines the allocation of extra means (Friant, 2016).
While both schemes share a number of parallelisms in terms of policy objectives and the underlying
logics orienting them, they also exhibit a number of relevant differences with regard to policy design.
Firstly, whilst the system adopted by the Flemish community relies on the use of direct indicators as
the main criteria to allocate subsidies, the French-speaking community settled for a system of indirect
indicators. Secondly, the indicators of social disadvantage taken into consideration by the two systems
also differ; whereas the Flemish system takes into account variables relative to nationality, mother
tongue or migrant origin, the French-speaking system relies exclusively on socioeconomic variables in
order to capture social disadvantage (Friant, 2016). Finally, while in the French-speaking community
the allocation of additional subsidies is optional and is only carried out at the school’s request, in the
Flemish community the subsidies are allocated automatically, i.e., the value of the operating funds
received by each school is routinely adjusted by the public administration on the basis of their school
In the case of Australia, the level of public funding received by private subsidized schools is partially
determined by the average socioeconomic status of each school. Schools are assigned a
socioeconomic score based on the students’ area of residence. This score is used as a proxy of the
capacity of the school community to contribute financially to the school’s recurrent costs, and it
translates into a discount in relation to the basic subsidy per student; thus, the higher the
socioeconomic score, the lower the government contribution. The system, known as the
Socioeconomic Status System (SES), was launched in 2001 as a means of advancing to a more
transparent and equitable funding model for non-government schools (CIRES, 2017; DoESE, 2020).
More recently, a reform passed in 2013 established for the first time a minimum amount of funding
per student, as well as a new system of formula funding that takes into account aspects such as the
number of students in poverty, indigenous or with limited English proficiency thus refining the
system of indirect indicators (relating to the area of residence of students) previously in place
(UNESCO-GEMR, 2021).
The cases of England and Chile feature among the most recent experiences with needs-based funding.
These cases differ from those described above in that, in such settings, compensatory policies are
adopted not only as a means of compensating for the unequal distribution of students across the
system, but also as a means of preventing such unequal distribution by making disadvantaged
students more attractive to schools.
In the case of England, a system of targeted funding known as Pupil Premium has been in place since
2011. As established by the program, any publicly-funded school (including state schools, Academies
and Free Schools) receives additional funding for each student identified as disadvantaged, i.e.,
children from low-income families registered as eligible for free school meals at any point in the last
six years, and those under the care of social services. While schools enjoy considerable autonomy in
the use of the supplementary funds, there are a number of accountability mechanisms oriented
towards promoting the effective use of the grant. This is particularly the case of league tables
reporting on the attainment of Pupil Premium recipients, as well as of external inspections and
reviews. However, it should be noted that Academies are subject to fewer transparency requirements
than public schools, as they are not legally required to publish their strategy relating to the use of
Public Premium funds (Foster & Long, 2020; Gorard, Siddiqui & See, 2021).
The Pupil Premium program was introduced with the objective of raising the achievement of deprived
children and closing the poverty-attainment gap. As noted above, an additional objective was to
counter segregation dynamics by de-incentivizing cream-skimming practices and by encouraging the
creation of free schools in less affluent areas (West, 2015). The ultimate impact of the program
remains, in any case, a matter of debate. While the analysis conducted by certain public agencies
suggest that the attainment gap has experienced a moderate decline since the introduction of the
program, recent work by Gorard, Siddiqui and See (2019) casts doubt on the validity of such results,
pointing to problems relating to measurement and methodological limitations. At the same time,
these authors have found preliminary evidence of the effectiveness of the program in reducing
socioeconomic segregation between schools.
Another example of compensatory funding can be found in the Preferential School Subsidy scheme
(known as SEP, for its acronym in Spanish) introduced in Chile in 2008. The reform established an
additional per-capita subsidy for socially disadvantaged students, identified as priority students, along
with a supplementary grant for schools serving a high share of disadvantaged students
(Elacqua &
Santos, 2013; Mizala & Torche, 2013, Santiago et al., 2017). In 2015, with the adoption of the Inclusion
Law, the program was expanded, the value of the SEP was increased by 20% and the program was
extended to a new category of students designated as preferential students and comprising students
from households in the lowest 80% of the income distribution, thus reaching the middle class.
Preferential students are eligible for an additional subsidy amounting to 50% of the value of the SEP.
The SEP reform has thus entailed a shift from a flat voucher scheme to a weighted/tiered voucher
based on students’ socioeconomic status (Sisto, 2019; Santiago et al., 2017)
One of the most distinctive features of the SEP program is its voluntary character, that is, the fact that
schools need to apply to the program if they wish to benefit from the subsidy. Crucially, the awarding
of SEP funds is conditional on a series of requirements for participating schools, including the
development and implementation of a school improvement plan and a commitment to use the bulk
of the SEP grant in the execution of such a plan. In addition, schools are required to refrain from
requesting fees from those students targeted by the program and are explicitly forbidden from
engaging in selective practices in the admission process
(Santiago et al., 2017). Finally, as we will
develop further in section 4.4 below, the SEP program is tied to a standards-based accountability
program which significantly raises the stakes attached to the national test for participating schools
(Elacqua, Jaimovich & Román, 2019).
As in the case of the Pupil Premium program in England, the impact of the SEP program remains an
object of debate. On the one hand, certain studies point to an improvement in the performance of
private schools serving disadvantaged populations, thus contributing to closing the achievement gap
(Mizala & Torche, 2017). On the other hand, available evidence suggests that the program has found
limited success in the reduction of school segregation. Elacqua and Santos (2013) hypothesize that
such limited effectiveness results partially from the fact that the most advantaged subsidized schools
decided not to enter the SEP program. This decision was motivated by the fact that the additional
funds were perceived as insufficient to compensate for the costs imposed by the SEP program,
particularly in terms of student selection.
4.3. School choice and admissions
Priority students are identified on the basis of low family income, low maternal education or participation in
welfare programs.
Note however that, since the passing of the Inclusion Law, such requirements are applied to all schools,
regardless of their participation in the SEP program.
Whilst the regulation of school choice and admissions remains absent in the educational debate of
most southern countries, over the last few decades various countries of the Global North have
adopted reforms of their school choice systems with the objective of improving equity (OECD, 2012;
Musset, 2012). The regulation of school choice and admissions in the context of PPPs frequently has
two main objectives. Firstly, to avoid the directionality of schools, particularly private subsidized, in
relation to the admission of new entrants. Secondly, school choice regulations usually seek to reduce
the effect of information asymmetries between advantaged and disadvantaged social groups, as well
as to compensate for the effects on equity of the school choice strategies frequently developed by
more socially affluent families (Ball, 2003). As the OECD (2019) summarizes, the regulation of school
choice can play an important role in ensuring that the increased capacity of families to choose a school
does not trigger or exacerbate school segregation:
Without appropriate regulations, school-choice programs may lead to greater socio-economic
segregation between schools if only wealthy families take advantage of the greater number of
options available and if oversubscribed schools are able to cream-skim the highest achievers (p.
Although there is not a unique way of regulating school choice schemes from an equity perspective,
there are certain general principles regarding the design of a school choice system that are expected
to have a positive impact on school segregation and social stratification. Firstly, some level of
centralization or coordination in admission criteria is recommended as a means of avoiding the use of
arbitrary or discriminatory criteria by schools, or the development of student selection practices
(Elacqua et al., 2018). For instance, the establishment of common enrolment procedures,
prioritization criteria and calendars can avoid discriminatory practices, reduce information
asymmetries or prevent the self-exclusion of the most disadvantaged social groups from certain school
options (OECD, 2012; see Box 4). In this regard, the evidence shows that when private subsidized and
public schools do not share common school choice and admissions regulatory frameworks, academic
segregation and the impact of students’ socioeconomic background on performance tend to be
greater (Eurydice, 2020). Secondly, providing priority access to targeted students can improve their
capacity of choice and promote a more balanced distribution of students among schools. In this
regard, establishing prioritization criteria or quotas for socially disadvantaged or special needs’
students can reduce the potential negative effect of school choice on school segregation (Elacqua et
al., 2018; OECD, 2012).
Box 4. Controlled school choice systems: a policy option at the service of equity
Controlled school choice systems have appeared as one of the main policy options to make compatible
families’ capacity of choice and a balanced distribution of students according to their socioeconomic
background (Musset, 2012; OECD, 2012; Abdulkadiroğlu & nmez, 2003). Despite the diversity of
school choice designs that can be considered as controlled systems, Cantillon (2017) provides a
framework that allows breaking down its three main components.
The first component refers to the rules that guide the process of school choice. In controlled systems,
families do not choose the school directly but express their schooling preferences. Frequently, this
means that families can express their schooling preferences by sorting out schools located in a specific
area (e.g., neighborhood, municipality, region).
The second component of controlled school choice systems refers to the way in which applications
are prioritized in the case of over-demand. Nevertheless, in many cases, prioritization criteria not only
have the objective of managing situations in which the number of applicants is higher than the places
available, but also of favoring a more balanced distribution of students from different social groups
and of fostering higher levels of diversity within schools. Regarding the possible prioritization criteria,
Cantillon (2017) distinguishes between two main categories: absolute and conditional priorities.
Absolute priorities are those that are applied regardless of the number of eligible students (one of the
most common being the presence of siblings already enrolled in the school); whereas conditional
priorities are those based on students’ characteristics (e.g., educational, socioeconomic, etc.) but
establish a maximum percentage or number of beneficiaries. For instance, many school systems
establish quotas for socially disadvantaged or special needs’ students.
The third component of a controlled choice scheme is the mechanism used to assign students, taking
into account their preferences and the prioritization criteria established. The most basic approach to
this issue is using the ‘first come, first served’ principle. However, the application of this principle often
faces implementation and equity problems. To overcome these problems, controlled school choice
systems frequently use a certain kind of assignment algorithm. Broadly speaking, assignment
algorithms aim to maximize the number of students that obtain a place in their first choice of school
(immediate acceptance algorithm) or to reduce the effect of strategic behaviors in relation to
expressing schooling preferences (deferred acceptance algorithm).
Controlled choice systems and admissions policies
Different education systems have adopted regulatory reforms to increase the centralization of their
school choice and admissions systems, as well as to establish the common criteria of admission and
prioritization. These reforms are frequently adopted considering that high levels of decentralization
and school autonomy regarding admissions affect equity negatively, particularly in terms of school
A relatively recent experience of structural reform in the school choice scheme can be found in the
French-speaking community of Belgium. In 1997, an educational reform established the obligation
for schools to accept all applicants without considering any requirement other than the adherence to
the principles of the education institution (Dupriez, Barbana & Verhoeven, 2018). However, between
2007 and 2010, and as a consequence of the intense debate around the high levels of school
segregation, the government of the French-speaking community adopted a number of regulatory
reforms to implement a controlled school choice system, as a means of guaranteeing compliance with
the no discrimination principle in the process of school admissions. This process of reform entailed a
significant transformation of the decentralized school choice system previously in place. Although the
regulation was modified three times between 2007 and 2010, the final design established a process
in which families can express their schooling preferences (up to 10 schools) on a unique form.
Considering the preferences of families and the absolute (siblings or special needs’ students) and
conditional (socially disadvantaged students) priority criteria, schools are allowed to assign 80% of the
available places. The remainder of the applications are assigned subsequently by a centralized system
(Cantillon, 2013).
The school choice reforms adopted in French-speaking Belgium were characterized by a high level of
public and political controversy and contestation, and were opposed by private providers’
organizations and families with children enrolled in private subsidized schools. These actors
considered that the adoption of a controlled school choice system undermined freedom of choice and
generated unfair situations, due to the prioritization of certain groups of students (Danhier & Friant,
2019; Delvaux & Maroy, 2009; Demeuse, Derobertmasure & Friant, 2009). Beyond the political
implications of the opposition to these reforms, Cantillon (2013) considers that the relative lack of
social legitimacy has fostered families’ and schools’ to engage in different forms of resistance to the
new regulation (e.g., subtle processes of student selection or fraudulent school applications.). In terms
of impact, available evidence shows that, to date, the reforms adopted in the French-speaking
community of Belgium have had little or no effect on school segregation (Friant, 2016; Danhier &
Friant, 2019). In this respect, Danhier and Friant (2019) point out that the reforms have focused on
the management of over-demand situations, on secondary education and that only the distribution of
socially disadvantaged students has significantly reduced their impact.
Chile has also adopted an entirely new system to manage school choice and admissions in the context
of the Inclusion Law, introduced in 2015. The new School Admission System (known as SAE, for its
acronym in Spanish) is a controlled choice scheme. This new regulation of the school choice process
was adopted in the context of structural education reform which, among other issues, prohibited
selective admissions. Although a previous education reform approved in 2009 formally banned the
selection of students based on their socioeconomic background or academic ability, such selection
was still widespread in the Chilean education system, particularly among private subsidized schools
(Contreras, Bustos & Sepúlveda, 2010; Carrasco, Gutierrez & Flores, 2017). In the context of the new
education reform, the need for establishing a centralized and common system of school choice was
understood as a necessary condition to make effective the prohibition of selective admissions and to
avoid the emergence of informal or subtle practices of student selection (Muñoz & Weinstein, 2019).
The new system establishes a common calendar in which families can express their school preferences
through an online platform managed by the Chilean Ministry of Education. The online platform also
provides families with information relating to each school, including the educational levels offered,
the pedagogical approach, the performance in national assessments or the results of the school
evaluation conducted by the Education Quality Agency, among other issues. Families are required to
indicate a minimum of two schools of their preference through the platform, after which all students
are automatically admitted to their choice of school in which the number of applicants is lower than
the places available. In the case of over-demand, the new system establishes the following priority
criteria: 1) the applicant has siblings already enrolled in the school, 2) the applicant is considered a
priority student based on his/her socioeconomic status (up to 15% of the available places), 3) any of
the parents of the applicant works in the school and 4) the applicant is a former student who has not
previously been expelled from the school. Based on these criteria and the preferences expressed by
families, applicants are assigned to schools using a deferred acceptance algorithm (Carrasco et al.,
2019; Carrasco & Honey, 2019) Although it seems clear that the new system of school choice adopted
in Chile makes this process more transparent and fairer, the evidence of its impact on equity and
school segregation is currently relatively limited (see Box 5).
Box 5. Chile: What has been the impact of the new system of school choice?
Evidence of the effects and impact of the new system of school admissions in Chile is still limited,
mainly because it was adopted in 2016 and has been implemented gradually in different regions of
the country. It was not until 2019 that the new system was implemented across the whole country.
However, certain studies have already assessed the impact of the new regulation regarding different
dimensions in particular, its effect on school segregation.
Carrasco and Honey (2019) have found that a higher percentage of students from lower
socioeconomic backgrounds are able to access better schools (according to the evaluation of the
Education Quality Agency) than before the implementation of the new system of school choice.
However, the same authors point out that the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students
regarding access to better evaluated and high-performance schools has remained stable both before
and after adopting the new school choice system. Similar results have been found by Sillard, Garay
and Troncoso (2018), who do not observe a significant change in the distribution of socially
disadvantaged students in schools. Finally, Kutscher, Nath and Urzua (2020) estimate that the effect
of the new system of admissions on school segregation varies according to residential segregation and
the composition of the school supply in each local area. In the case of residential segregation, the
study finds that municipalities with higher levels of residential segregation have experienced an
increase in school segregation with the new system of school choice. In contrast, municipalities with
lower levels of residential segregation have experienced a reduction of school segregation as a result
of the implementation of the new regulation. According to the authors, this can be explained by the
fact that, despite the new system providing low-income families with higher opportunities of choice,
residential segregation can increase travel costs and reduce access opportunities. In the case of school
supply, the authors also observe that municipalities with larger shares of private independent schools
have experienced an increase in school segregation after implementing the new system of admissions.
The negative association between the presence of private schools and school segregation is explained
by the fact that affluent students switched from private subsidized to private independent schools, to
avoid schooling with certain social groups as a result of the new regulation.
Different authors have pointed out that despite the new system of admissions makes the process of
school choice fairer and reducing the possibilities of student screening, the differences in schooling
preferences between socially disadvantaged and advantaged families explain why the new school
choice system has not affected school segregation significantly (Carrasco & Honey, 2019; Sillard et al.,
2018; Eyzaguirre et al., 2019).
In the case of England, the school choice reforms adopted in the past few years have focused on the
regulation and coordination of the criteria applied during school admissions. It is important to bear in
mind that in England, private subsidized providers (Academies and Free Schools) usually act as
admissions authorities, which means that these schools have traditionally been able to set their own
admissions criteria and manage the process. Nonetheless, different studies have shown that those
schools with the autonomy to manage their process of admissions have tended to enroll students
from higher socioeconomic backgrounds or those who are more academically able (see, for example,
West, Hind & Pennell, 2004; Coldron et al., 2008; West, 2006). At the same time, schools’ capacity to
set their own admission criteria has facilitated the emergence of practices of student selection or
dynamics, or fostered self-exclusion behaviors (Allen, Coldron & West, 2010). As a result of these
concerns, the government developed a series of reforms to regulate school admissions.
Between 1999 and 2012, the regulations relating to school admissions were reformed several times.
It is possible to identify two main approaches regarding these different reforms. On the one hand, the
reforms of 1999 and 2003 did not establish mandatory admissions criteria but a series of guidelines
to guarantee the admissions process and the criteria applied were ‘clear, fair and objective’ (West,
Barham & Hind, 2011, p. 4). On the other hand, the 2007 and 2009 reforms established a number of
requirements that admission authorities (local educational authorities and schools) had to meet.
These requirements have affected the design of the admissions process and the criteria applied to
prioritize applications. In the case of admissions, the new regulation prohibits a series of requirements
that were considered unfair and could be considered as access barriers in relation to disadvantaged
students, such as the need to adhere to the school educational project, the participation of families in
activities outside school hours or families’ economic contributions. At the same time, the new
regulation also established the need to prioritize the admission of low socioeconomic status or special
needs students (West et al., 2011). Available evidence on the impact of the reforms adopted in
England shows that the new regulations have increased social diversity within schools. However, Allen,
Coldron and West (2010) consider that the positive impact of the reforms is explained by the
establishment of priority access for disadvantaged students, rather than by the prohibition of certain
admission requirements that were considered as indirect selection criteria.
Priority access for socially disadvantaged students
An alternative policy option in relation to school choice aiming to reduce the potential negative effects
of PPPs on school segregation is the establishment of priority access rules for certain specific groups,
particularly for socially disadvantaged students. While this is the main characteristic of targeted PPP
policies (i.e., targeted vouchers), it is also possible to identify prioritization measures among large-
scale PPPs.
In 2005, the Flemish community of Belgium established, on a voluntary basis, the possibility for
schools to prioritize the access of socially disadvantaged students. Additionally, those schools enrolling
10% more socially disadvantaged students by comparison with the social composition of their local
area were allowed to prioritize the enrolment of non-socially disadvantaged students (Nusche et al.,
2015). In 2011, local school boards were allowed to establish mandatory quotas for socially
disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students in all schools within their area (Cantillon, 2011; OECD,
2015). Furthermore, the new regulation established that, in the case of over-demand, prioritization
criteria should focus on guaranteeing the correspondence between the school population and the
socioeconomic composition of the area in which the school is located. Despite this new regulation,
Sierens Mahieu and Nouwen (2011) estimate that school segregation has remained relatively stable.
In 2009, the Indian government introduced the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education
Act (RTE). One of the most relevant components of this reform was the obligation of private schools
(aided and non-aided) to allocate 25% of their places to socially disadvantaged students (Morgan,
2017). Private unaided schools receive public funding equivalent to ‘the level of state expenditure per
child or tuition fee charged at the school, whichever is less’ (Srivastava & Noronha, 2014, p. 51). In the
case of private aided schools, they should reserve a percentage of places not less than the proportion
of public funds received annually, subject to a minimum of 25%. Furthermore, private schools cannot
charge fees or apply any screening process to these students (Walford, 2013). As Srivastava and
Noronha (2014) point out, the 25% quota included in the RTE resulted in significant public and political
controversy. Certain stakeholders believed that this measure created a de facto PPP, since it meant
the public subsidization of private funded schools. Others characterized the reform as a pro-equity
measure, promoting access to private schools for the most disadvantaged students and reducing the
high level of stratification and segmentation of the Indian education system.
Although, to date, there is no evidence of the effects of the new regulation, its implementation has
faced various constraints. Some authors have drawn attention to potential implementation problems,
but also to the unintended effects of the 25% quota included in the RTE Act for socially disadvantaged
students. Firstly, the definition of the target population included in the RTE is excessively broad, which
has allowed certain Indian states to narrow it down and reduce the proportion of students eligible for
free places in private schools (Walford, 2013; Srivastava & Noronha, 2014). Secondly, the media has
reported that certain private schools are not observing the reservation of school places and are
refusing to enroll eligible students, raising doubts on the capacity of state governments to enforce this
provision (Ashley, 2003). Finally, a possible unintended consequence of the 25% rule is the increase in
school fees. It is important to bear in mind that the regulation establishes that private unaided schools
will receive compensation for each vulnerable student enrolled under this scheme, equivalent to the
public expenditure per student in government schools or, if they are lower, the fees charged by the
school. As a consequence, Walford (2013) considers that low-fee private unaided schools have
incentives to raise tuition fees.
In Bogotá (Colombia), the charter schools program Colegios en Concesionwas established in the most
deprived areas of the city, with the intention of serving vulnerable students (e.g., displaced students,
low-income families) and providing these students with more opportunities in terms of school choice.
Furthermore, the admissions policies that apply to public schools also apply to charter schools,
including the principles of non-discrimination and the fact that residence proximity to the school is
considered a priority criterion (Edwards et al., 2017; Edwards & Termes, 2019). At the same time,
charter schools are not allowed to charge add-on tuition fees or select their intake on the basis of
academic performance or ability. However, different studies have shown how the lack of
accountability or supervision mechanisms have allowed the emergence of informal student selection
practices based on academic performance or family commitment (Termes, Verger & Bonal, 2017;
Termes et al., 2015). As a consequence, the prioritization criteria established by the regulations of the
program have not been sufficiently effective and it is possible to affirm that charter schools ‘have
promoted school segregation in the local educational spaces in which they have been located’ (Termes
et al., 2017, p. 927).
In the US, the access to charter schools of children with disabilities has become a matter of academic
research and societal concern. As Waitoller, Nguyen and Super (2019) point out, charter schools enroll
a significantly lower percentage of children with disabilities than public schools within the same area.
Different studies have shown how charter schools frequently develop practices oriented towards
excluding students with disabilities, such as recommending families to move to another school ‘more
appropriate’ for their children, applying disciplinary measures to disabled students or not providing
them with the necessary services to meet their needs (Waitoller & Super, 2019; Welner & Howe, 2005;
Waitoller, 2020). In this context, the ‘Every Student Succeeds Act’ approved in 2015 included certain
regulatory provisions intended to address the concerns regarding the enrollment of students with
disabilities in charter schools. The new federal education law requires charter schools to guarantee
admission processes and retention practices that ensure equal opportunities for children with
disabilities. In addition, charter schools’ authorizers are required to monitor charter schools’ practices
to ensure they meet the needs of children with disabilities (National Council on Disability, 2018).
Nevertheless, currently, there is no evidence indicating how these new regulatory provisions have
been implemented and the extent to which they have improved the access opportunities to charter
schools for children with disabilities.
Box 6. Bottom-up advocacy for inclusive regulatory instruments
In September 2019, an Argentinean NGO called ACIJ (Asociación Civil por la Igualdad de la Justicia)
and the Human Rights Center of the University of Buenos Aires filed a class action lawsuit against the
City of Buenos Aires government, reporting that privately managed schools systematically reject the
enrollment of children with disabilities, and that the government of the city fails to control this
practice. According to the two organizations, families of children with disabilities are forced to visit
dozens of educational institutions before they are accepted. As a consequence, they end up enrolling
in a regular school usually located a long way from their residence, not attending any school, or
enrolling in a special school.
Within the framework of the lawsuit, together with evidence relating to enrollment denials, the two
organizations requested the implementation of measures to disseminate and enact the right to
inclusive education. One year later, in September 2020, the judiciary of the City of Buenos Aires
resolved the lawsuit favorably. Among other measures, it ordered the publication of the prohibition
to deny enrollment on the basis of disability in Ministry of Education sources and on the websites and
billboards of private schools. It also ordered the implementation of an effective on-line channel to
process the claims that families might have in the event of enrollment denials, and that these claims
should be collated in an administrative file at the General Directorate of Private Management
Education of the City of Buenos Aires.
Source: Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (2020). La Justicia puso un freno a la discriminación en
escuelas privadas de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. Retrieved from:
4.4. Autonomy, evaluation and accountability
The involvement of private actors in education provision tends to be associated with higher levels of
school autonomy in educational systems (Burns, Köster & Fuster, 2016). Indeed, many times, PPPs
have been established as a means of contributing to the diversification of the educational supply
through the involvement of non-state schools in educational provision. Thus, by design, most PPP
frameworks tend to guarantee and even promote higher levels of autonomy and decision-making
power to publicly-subsided private schools in domains such as the school’s pedagogical orientation,
teacher policies, school organization and budgetary decisions, among others. However, this higher
level of autonomy does not mean that PPP schools are exempt from complying with centrally defined
curriculums, learning standards or student admissions criteria, among other public regulations.
Accountability frameworks play a strategic role in promoting that all publicly-funded schools,
independently of their ownership, are correctly aligned with quality standards and also with the equity
goals and objectives set by the government (Hooge et al., 2012).
The accountability regulations that apply to non-state actors in the context of PPPs can follow three
main approaches. Firstly, the full integration between the accountability and evaluation framework
that applies to the private subsidized sector with that that applies to the public sector. Secondly, the
flexible integration forcing private providers to comply with some of the accountability requirements
applied to the public sector regarding certain issues (e.g., teacher evaluations, performance
assessments, etc.), but allowing flexibility in other dimensions (OECD, 2013). Thirdly, certain PPPs have
developed specific or additional accountability schemes for private subsidized providers, as is
frequently the case in relation to charter schools or voucher programs.
Private and public sector integration
Large-scale PPPs with a long-standing history tend to integrate private subsidized schools into the
same accountability and evaluation framework that applies to the public sector. We observe this type
of integration, especially in countries where PPPs have been adopted with the objective of equating
all the providers that receive public funding, whether they be public or private.
This is the case with regard to the education system in the Netherlands, where both public and private
schools are supervised by the Education Inspectorate, acting under the authority of the Ministry of
Education. Schools are required to grant the inspectorate access and to provide the necessary
documentation. The inspectorate is responsible for: a) checking compliance with regulations and
quality-related aspects (i.e., attainment of targets, but also pedagogical climate, school atmosphere,
etc.; b) promoting the development of education through consultation with stakeholders and c)
reporting to the Ministry of Education (Vermeulen, 2004). Primary and secondary schools are required
to develop a school plan stating the school’s educational philosophy and objectives, the actions to be
taken to achieve these objectives, and to guarantee that parents and students, among other key
stakeholders, have access to this plan (Vermeulen, 2004). Since the beginning of the 2000s, all schools
are subject to an increasingly intensive test-based accountability regime (Browes & Altinyelken, 2019).
In French-speaking Belgium, where PPPs in education have a similar historical tradition to that in the
Netherlands, ‘the evaluation and assessment frameworks treats all schools equally, i.e., all schools are
subject to the same rules and engage similarly in centrally dictated evaluation and assessment
activities (in addition to their own sector’s specific initiative)’ (OECD, 2013, p. 71). A similar system is
in operation in Spain, where inspection services and external evaluations are the same for public and
private dependent schools. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the implementation of these policies
follows the same pattern. For instance, in the case of Spain, certain researchers have observed that
inspection services tend to be very cautious regarding the organizational autonomy of private owners
and, accordingly, their presence is less significant in private subsidized schools than in public schools
(Villaroya, 2003; Galicia Mangas, 2016).
Flexible integration
In other countries with PPPs in place, it is assumed that the pedagogic, organizational and managerial
autonomy that private schools tend to enjoy, needs to be compensated with additional financial
and/or performance-based accountability measures. This accountability approach is more frequent in
PPPs that follow school autonomy and market rationales. In most of these systems, the contracts with
underperforming providers are not renewed if there are no significant improvements within a certain
period of time, therefore, the schools managed by these providers can be outsourced to a different
In the United States, the accountability policies established at federal level, do not distinguish
between public and charter schools. However, differences emerge in the accountability systems
established at state level. The charter school contracts, the terms and conditions of which are defined
by each state, tend to guarantee higher levels of educational autonomy for charter schools at the
same time, that subject these schools to specific outcomes-based accountability measures. Thus, if
charter schools wish to renew their contracts with the public authorities, they ‘must “prove” their
value to receive another contract’ (Bulkley & Fisler, 2003, p. 318). The charter school authorizer plays
a critical role in this respect.
In addition to providing oversight, [authorizers] are responsible for holding charter schools
accountable for student performance. Oversight begins with review of applications for new
charter schools and approval or denial of the application based on its adherence to criteria set
forth in state law. Once a charter school has been approved, authorizers begin their job of holding
the charter schools they authorize accountable by monitoring performance and, when the term
of the charter ends, deciding whether to renew the school’s charter. In some states, when a
charter school’s performance does not meet the expectations set forth in the charter contract or
the school is rated poorly in the state’s accountability system, state policies require authorizers to
revoke the charter and close the school (Thomsen, 2017).
In Colombia, the charter school program, adopted in the largest cities in the country, known as
Colegios en Concesión, follows a similar rationale to that in the US, and contracts are not renewed if
the schools do not meet specific learning outcomes standards. For instance, in Bogotá, 25 charter
schools began operating in the year 2000 under 15-year contracts (Edwards & Termes, 2019). After
the government conducted an evaluation of the program in 2014, 22 schools had their contracts
renewed, while three of them, with unsatisfactory results, did not. In this case, however, the schools
were not externalized to another private provider and were directly managed by the public
In England, the accountability arrangement for Academies and Free Schools is similar to that described
for charter schools. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted)
inspects both Academies and Free Schools under the same framework that applies to public schools
(Ofsted, 2015, as cited by West & Nikolai [2017]). Nonetheless, both individual Academies and
Academy trusts can be dissolved by the central government if their test scores and examination results
are deemed to be a cause for concern, and following an inspection by Ofsted (see Cawley, 2015).
Academy chains have also been closed due to inadequate inspection results. In addition, there are
Regional Schools Commissioners, appointed by the Department for Education, who oversee the
performance of Academies and approve some of their strategic and management decisions. The
Regional Schools Commissioners’ main accountability duties are: 1) taking action in cases when
Academies and free schools are underperforming; 2) intervening in Academies where governance is
inadequate and 3) taking action to improve poorly performing sponsors.
See Malaver, C. (2019, March 24). 19 años después habrá nueva generación de colegios por concesión. El
Tiempo. Retrieved from:
In Sweden, inspection processes for the public and the private sector are increasingly similar. There,
independent schools are required to: 1) engage with the evaluation and monitoring mechanisms
established by the municipality where they are located; 2) participate in national tests and 3)
participate in the National Agency for Education’s reviews, evaluations and inspections (Rönnberg,
2011). Sanctions are also increasingly similar, e.g., in both sectors there is the possibility of issuing
fines to schools not meeting the required standards and the possibility of closing schools. Nonetheless,
private dependent schools are subject to extra measures and evaluations, and inspection services take
into consideration additional criteria when inspecting them, including adherence to the regulations
on school admissions, issues relative to the impartiality of teaching, financial stability, issues relative
to the number of students, management and licensing, among others (Rönnberg, 2011; West, 2017).
According to Shafiq and Myers (2014), inspectors in Sweden face the challenge of balancing the
freedom of education of private subsidized schools (given their contribution to the diversification of
the system) and making sure that these schools adhere to the national ‘syllabus’ (general objectives,
knowledge and skills, democratic values). Despite these additional control mechanisms, private
subsidized schools have more flexibility than public schools in terms of reporting to public authorities;
for instance, they are are not obliged to keep records of studentsgrades (Lrarnas Riksförbund,
2007; Arreman & Holm, 2011, p. 232), neither are they requested to fulfill other transparency
The function of supervising independent schools in Sweden was given to the Swedish National Agency
for Education. However, this agency faced multiple challenges when fulfilling this task. According to
certain observers, the agency’s first evaluation reports relating to the private sector were very
superficial (Wennström, 2019), and the agency, despite intending ‘to inspect each independent school
over a three-year cycle’ could not do so ‘due to an insufficient budget and the rapid growth of
independent schools’ which rendered the volume of inspections ‘impossible to sustain’ (Rönnberg,
2011, p. 697).
In Chile, the Preferential School Subsidy Law, adopted in 2008, transformed the accountability system
of the country significantly. As shown above, the law was adopted to improve the access opportunities
of most disadvantaged students to private subsidized schools as a means of reducing school
segregation and improving learning outcomes. The SEP law encourages inclusive admission practices
by providing extra-funding (i.e., increasing the value of the voucher) to those schools that enroll
vulnerable students. In exchange, schools are subject to stricter performance-based accountability
measures. Underperforming schools lose autonomy and, among other measures, are obliged to
contract external school improvement services. If they do not move to a higher performance category
within three years, ‘the Ministry of Education reports this to the school community and encourages
families to consider other schooling options for their children’. And ‘if the school remains in the lowest
category for four years, the Ministry will revoke its license to operate and receive public funding. The
information on the school rankings is also widely disseminated to families and the public’. (Elacqua et
al., 2018, p.23). The accountability provisions of the SEP law were scaled up to include the whole
education system, with the adoption of the Education Quality Assurance System in 2011 (Verger,
Ferrer-Esteban & Parcerisa, 2020). To date, nonetheless, it is unclear whether these measures have
contributed to reducing the social segmentation of the Chilean school system, but there is increasing
evidence as to how it has favored strategic behavior in the educational system, especially among
underperforming schools (i.e., more teaching to the test, allocation of the most effective teachers in
the groups to be externally evaluated, student tracking practices, etc.) (Elacqua et al., 2019; Falabella,
Although test-based accountability measures in Chile are very similar in public and private dependent
schools, there are dimensions of the accountability system that are not fully equivalent. This is the
case with regard to the teacher appraisal policy, since the Ministry of Education gives independence
to school providers to formulate their own teacher evaluation procedures (OECD, 2013). Similarly in
Australia, the Schools Assistance Act 2008 established that ‘non-government schools have an
obligation to meet national school performance and reporting requirements similar to those which
apply to government schools’, but ‘school evaluation practices in the Catholic and Independent
sectors may not be mandatory and the organization of teacher appraisal in the context of performance
management processes is dissociated from state and territory School Improvement Frameworks’
(OECD, 2013, p.72).
Specific accountability schemes for PPP schools
In several countries in the Global South, accountability systems for private dependent schools are
different from those that apply to public schools. This tends to be the case because the accountability
schemes applying to the public sector are weak or non-existent, and also because international
donors, who are usually behind the establishment of PPPs by providing funding and/or technical
assistance, create para-state agencies (in the form of foundations or similar entities to hold PPP
schools accountable. Many donors adopt this approach owing to a lack of trust in the government to
fulfill this task, or because there is a certain level of urgency in relation to implementing the
accountability measures.
In Punjab, Pakistan, the private schools that operate under the FAS program, the Education Voucher
Scheme program (EVS) and the New School program (NSP), in contrast to the public sector, are
strongly monitored and surveilled. The same management organization of the programs, namely, the
Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), fulfills this function. As detailed by Irfan (2015, p. 182):
The financial assistance of PEF is subject to the performance of private sector partners on the pre-
defined indicators outlined in the respective MoUs. In order to ensure the desired outcomes of
the partnership, PEF monitors and evaluates student learning outcomes through the QATs [Quality
Assurance Tests]. Surprise or informed visits are carried out by PEF monitors who are assigned to
evaluate schools (in the case of FAS, EVS and NSP partners) (…). The details related to the
monitoring of partners are outlined in the respective MoUs too (…). In addition to on-site
monitoring by PEF there are some reporting requirements which make partners liable to share
information about some indicators. This information (such as enrolment figures, number of
teachers, etc.) is verified by PEF during the regular monitoring visits and in cases of any
misrepresentation of facts or non-compliance with the terms and conditions laid down under the
MoU, PEF reserves the right to impose penalties or even cancel the partnership (Irfan, 2015, p.
In relation to both the EVS and the FAS, the PEF is in charge of both rewarding participating private
schools according to their performance (Bano, 2008)
and deciding which schools continue within the
program, on the basis of their performance in the QAT, with continuity being terminated in the case
of two consecutive failures in the test (Irfan, 2015). In fact, the PEF also sets the quality standards for
passing the QAT. Finally, the ‘PEF also reserves the right to impose penalties for breaches of the terms
and conditions mentioned in the MoU’ (Irfan, 2015, p. 171).
In Liberia, the PSL has adopted a similar accountability approach to many other charter school
programs, in the sense that contract continuity is on condition that school providers achieve certain
pre-established learning standards. However, a private international foundation such as the Ark
Foundation has played an important role in the monitoring and evaluation of the program. According
to Ark, the foundation has played a ‘significant role in the delivery of the program’, including helping
to evaluate the PSL due to ‘limited government capacity’ (Aslam et al., 2017). This is also
acknowledged in the official documents of the program, in which Ark is mentioned as providing ‘policy
advice, project management, operator and evaluator commissioning, capacity building of Ministry
team, data analysis, fundraising, and communication’ (MoE, Feb. 2017, p.14, in Hook, 2017, p. 17).
More specifically, and according to Bano (2008), ‘Through a competitive system designed by the PEF, the
school performing best on the QAT in the district is given a cash reward of Rs.50,000. In addition, five teachers
in all schools in which 90 per cent or more students score at least 40 per cent marks in the QAT are given
Rs.10,000 each’ (p. 17).
4.5. Teachers
The regulation of the teaching force is central to the debate on the potential of PPP schemes. PPP
proponents argue that the superiority of PPPs as a form of educational provision relies on the
autonomy in human resources management that private schools enjoy. Such autonomy is expected
to foster greater quality as schools are able to attract and retain teachers solely on the basis of their
performance, and can offer salary bonus or other incentives (Patrinos et al., 2009; Baum et al., 2014;
Lewis & Patrinos, 2011). Nevertheless, this comes at a price. In market-like situations, certain schools
might be willing to reduce costs by hiring less-experienced or less-qualified teachers, and by relying
on part-time staff and fixed-term contracts. The casualization of teachers' work has been documented
in a variety of education systems with PPPs in place, both in the Global South, see ISER (2016) in the
case of Uganda, or Afridi (2018) in the case of the Pakistani Punjab and in high-income countries, see
Martindale (2019) on the Academies program in England. Such dynamics are not only problematic in
terms of teacher wellbeing (which suffers because of lower salaries, lower job security, limited
bargaining power, a less stable and collegial work environment, etc.) and the overall quality and
efficiency of the system, but also generate important equity problems. It is thus possible to assume
that school autonomy over teacher hiring and compensation exacerbates inequalities in terms of
students’ access to educational opportunities.
In order to prevent or at least minimize these dynamics, there are two main policy options. Firstly,
establishing common or equivalent entry paths to the teaching profession (both in terms of required
qualifications and/or teacher-certification or teacher-licensing procedures). This prevents the entry of
poorly- or non-qualified personnel into the teaching workforce and ensures a minimum degree of
equivalence in the teaching quality enjoyed by public and private schools. A second option that might
contribute to preventing an uneven distribution of the most-skilled or more-experienced teachers is
the establishment of common salary scales and working conditions for instance, through centralized
wage-setting (i.e., the requirement for private subsidized schools to adhere to the national pay scale)
or the establishment of a private school teacher status similar to that of public school teachers (e.g.,
working hours, benefits, pension schemes, career and opportunities for professional development,
among others). This can prevent certain school segments from disproportionately attracting and
retaining the more qualified or more skilled teachers.
Credential requirements
In the United States, many charter school laws include waivers from state policies on teacher
licensing. Charter schools are thus allowed to hire non-certified teachers or to hire teachers not
meeting the certification requirements necessary for eligibility to teach in public schools, or to develop
its own credentialing standards (Podgursky, 2006; Education Commission of the States, 2020).
Therefore, and as noted by a report prepared by the Department of Education, charter schools tend
to have a higher percentage of uncertified teachers than public schools (US Department of Education,
2016). However, while the deregulation of the teaching force has been a prominent feature of the US
charter school model, the state of California has recently passed legislation that represents a shift
away from such tendencies. More specifically, a recent bill (Assembly Bill 1505) establishes stricter
requirements in relation to teacher certification, as of July 2020. The new legislation requires all new
teachers entering charter schools to hold the same credentials required by their counterparts in the
public sector. For those teachers already employed in the charter school sector, the law establishes a
transitionary five-year period, during which time they are expected to obtain the required credentials
in order to remain in the profession (CTA, 2020). Such changes are oriented towards securing greater
parity between charter and public schools, and represent a significant departure from the original
charter school legislation, passed in 1992, which allowed for considerable flexibility in the hiring of
teachers in charge of the non-core subjects’ sector (Fensterwald, 2019). The new provisions regarding
teacher certification are accompanied by other changes in the regulation of the charter sector,
including a renewal process sensitive to schools’ performance, as well as a more discriminating
authorization process (see section 4.1).
It is important to bear in mind that the negotiation of such a substantive change proved particularly
challenging from a political perspective. The reforms were largely the result of the advocacy efforts of
a variety of education stakeholders, spearheaded by the state’s two largest teacher unions, who were
highly critical of the unrestrained growth of charter schools and the limited mechanisms of control
available to public authorities. In line with this diagnosis, the original version of the bill sponsored by
the teacher unions provided school districts with broad powers to reject charter schools and did not
contemplate a transition period for the application of teacher certification requirements. This first
draft was met with fierce opposition on the part of the California Charter School Association, an
organization representing two thirds of California’s charter schools (Luna, 2019). Only after months of
negotiation was an agreement reached, with the establishment of a five-year transitory period which
played a key role in securing the move of the California Charter School Association to a neutral position
(Fensterwald, 2019; CCSA, 2019b).
In the case of France, a process of harmonization of teacher-licensing procedures took place in the
early 1990s. The so-called ‘Lang-Cloupet agreements’, signed in 1992/1993, established a system of
recruitment for subsidized private school teachers equivalent to that in place for the public sector.
The new policy established a national competitive examination essentially analogous to the one used
for the selection of public-school teachers (Bourget, 2019). Teacher candidates are thus evaluated by
the same juries and based on equivalent tests (Defresne, 2017; Monso, 2015). The system of teacher
appointments, however, continues to differ between public and private schools. Whereas public
school teachers