“This Monday they finally put up the sign that work will begin.” Andrés Fernández tells of the waiting of several generations of students who were not able to study at a public institute in his neighborhood. It takes place in Aravaca, one of the richest areas of Madrid. For more than 30 years, families have seen their children grow up without a public high school. So says the President of the Association of Mothers and Fathers of Students at the Anne Frank Institute, the center that is now beginning to grow. “This fight started decades ago, but it’s not even built yet,” Fernández laments the institute, which since 2019 has had a director, teachers and students… 65 who, for the time being, have to study elsewhere. His story is an example of the difficulties some parents in the Autonomous Community of Madrid face in getting their children a place in the public school, while there are more and more opportunities to go to a private school. Here it is tax deductible to buy uniforms. Learn languages. Or pay for private day care. There are concerted private centers built on public land. And the last chapter was the controversy about helping families with incomes over 100,000 euros with public money to go to private centers. As a result, only 40% of students in the capital attend public schools, compared to 55% across the region, 67% in Spain and 81% in the European Union.
Madrid is the Spanish region with the most students in purely private centers (15.8%) and has 29.6% in concerted schools. Together with the two (45.4%), it is only surpassed by the Basque Country (48%). Has it always been like this? no Since the 1994-1995 academic year, the last under a socialist government, Joaquín Leguina, in the Autonomous Community of Madrid, the number of public students in the region has fallen by 5 points. Over the same period, only the Region of Murcia leads this trend in favor of the private sector (8 points). In fact, Madrid lost three times as many students in public as the national average (1.6 points).
All of these statistics, the product of 27 consecutive years of conservative governments in the region, show a model that, according to Luis Peral, the regional education minister, who publicly defended and privately validated other PP positions between 2003 and 2007, helps the PP win elections .
“In the 2007 municipal elections in the 24 municipalities of the Autonomous Community of Madrid, which held public land contests to build new common centers, the PP increased its votes by 5.94%,” Peral argued in a debate of the Autonomous Assembly, which he starred as a deputy a little over five years ago. “That’s 50% more than the 4.04% increase in all communities in the community,” he added, citing a report he had prepared on the subject. And he concluded: “Supporting parental suffrage (…) is something that political common sense demands of a party that wants to govern.”
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This thesis was soon put into practice. It all started with a sentence spoken in 2011: “We are going to make a real revolution in the education system”. In the midst of her campaign for her re-election as regional president (2003-2012), Esperanza Aguirre promised to create a unified education sector in the Autonomous Community of Madrid. Since then, it doesn’t matter where the students live, they can theoretically go to the public institution they want, to a concerted school or to the private one they can afford anywhere in the region. More than 10 years later, the state government assumes that 93% of families take their children to the facility of their choice. However, in Madrid there are also parents who denounce that they want their children to go to public school and they cannot.
“First of all, they tell you that your son can study anywhere he wants, and it seems very nice, but it’s a lie,” laments Alessandra, 48, who spent six years trying to get her son enrolled in a public school . She’s made it now, as Izan is about to graduate from high school and because she agreed to enroll him at a center near La Cañada Real where “nobody wants to go.” His problem was that he had taken his son to a shared center in Vallecas (south of Madrid) during the infancy phase, which had punished him when he wanted to transfer to the public center in primary and secondary school. “They explained to me that since I had taken my son to a shared center, priority was given to those who were already in a public center,” recalls Alessandra, who lives in Rivas, a municipality south-east of Madrid where the José Hierro school is .5 minutes walk from home. “Makes no sense. If you want to bring it close to home, score against having previously brought it to a center in Madrid,” he complains. “And if it’s arranged, I won’t even tell you. It is a trap. You go in there and you can’t get out.”
In the 2019-2020 school year, for the 40,000 students between the ages of 12 and 18 from 9 of the capital’s 21 districts, there were not enough places to continue their studies in the public school and in their zones: many had to choose another district, a of the 33 nearby concert centers (out of 16 public ones) or to a few purely private ones. In the academic year 2021/2022, 17,976 young people from across the region were left without a place in the postgraduate professional study course of their choice and 6,938 in the middle level: either on the street or in a private one. Finally, for the 2022-2023 school year, more than 8,000 children were left without places in public kindergartens in Madrid, where there was only room for 4,312 applicants: most have to choose between leaving their children at home or paying for a private kindergarten.
“This presents us with an unfair and inefficient education system. And especially given the risk of a fragmented and unequal society,” says Carlos Magro, President of the Open Education Association, in an article collected in a Unicef report last June (The 2030 Agenda related to childhood in the Autonomous Community of Madrid). “If there is an indicator of particular concern in education in Madrid, it is that related to school segregation by socio-economic level,” he specifies, pointing to the strong presence of private and concerted private centers in the regional educational network as the origin of the problem.
“The Autonomous Community of Madrid defends the freedom of education for families and guarantees that, in every compulsory school, all students from families who wish to do so are enrolled in an education center financed with public funds,” counters a spokesman for the Ministry of Education. The most recent regional budgets provide 5,730,037,907 euros for this, of which 1,164,550,095 euros Educational concerts to fund tuition in private centers borne with public funds and three out of four euros to the public, according to government data.
In this way, only 40% of the students in the city of Madrid attend a public school, e.g 59% of the city of Murcia in the academic year 2019-2020; 55% of Vitoria in the 2020-2021 academic year; 54.7% from Zaragoza in the 2020-2021 academic year; 46% from Barcelona in the 2021-2022 academic year or 42% from San Sebastián in the 2020-2021 academic year.
North-South border in the capital
Although the capital figures have remained the same since the 2002-2003 academic year, the details have changed fundamentally. Thus, the gap between private and public education has mimicked the limits of income and life expectancy that divide the capital in two, torn between north and south. Consequently, there is also an education limit in the capital. From the center to the south, there are more public sector students and fewer pure and concerted private school offerings. And from the center to the north more private students and more offers from these centers. This distribution often follows a non-intuitive logic: Especially in the new parts of the city, the newer buildings tend to lack more public centers. A bargain for the private initiative, because where there is a need, there is an offer. The private offer.
Are there any cities with fewer students in public than the capital of Spain? Yes, for example Bilbao with 39% in the 2020-2021 academic year. But the Basque Country, the paradise of concerted education, also lags behind the Madrid region when it comes to students attending a purely private school. No one has more than the community chaired by Ayuso: 16%.
Because Beatriz, 37, is a secondary school teacher and knows how difficult it is to find a place in a public school, she has started looking for the next class for her baby, who is now five months old. Nothing from municipal kindergartens, managed both indirectly and directly. Total failure. He also tried in those belonging to the Autonomous Community of Madrid. And not just in his district (Mitte). He searched those of Latina, Arganzuela, Chamberí and Carabanchel. Zero. “The community says they build based on what families ask for, but that’s not true. The only thing you find available is tuned,” he protests. In the end, through a setback, he got a place at the San Alfonso School, a concerted and Catholic school. “It is what it is. I’m an atheist and I have to eat it, and that I have nothing against this school, on the contrary, I have it against the model,” he insists.
Peral, a former regional education minister, has studied the political implications of this commitment to education. And there are two undeniable facts. The PP won all of Madrid’s regional elections between 1991 and 2021, with the exception of that of 2019 (although it remained in power). Same thing in the capital: the PP won every election between 1991 and 2019, when it lost them for the first time in the 21st century. Now, before the election date in May 2023, he already has a new argument: scholarships for non-compulsory stages of education, to which families with one child who earns more than 100,000 euros can vote.
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