Decentralization of education in Colombia : its operation and effects on education performance and inequality




Tellez Canas, Santiago Alejandro

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The distribution of functions and decision-making over the educational system is different all over the world. In some countries, most of the responsibilities lie with the national government, while in other countries schools or local authorities enjoy high levels of autonomy. This dissertation aims to assess the effects of decentralization of education in education expenditures, performance and inequality. Second, it aims to evaluate if political competition and local administrative capacity are mechanisms that explain that relationship, and moreover to understand how those factors relate to the output and outcomes of interest. The dissertation focuses in Colombia for its historical experience with decentralization, and more importantly, because in 2001 it adopted a reform which granted autonomy to large municipalities with respect to education management. To provide a comparative perspective to the results for Colombia, the dissertation also includes a comparative analysis of seven Latin American countries. The dissertation finds that in the case of Colombia, decentralization increases education expenditures and inequality but does not have any effect on education performance. For municipalities with high levels of political competition, decentralization does not have a different effect on expenditures, but in some estimations it appears to decrease performance, and decreases education segregation, while for those with low levels of political competition, it only has a differentiated effect on education expenditures that municipalities make with their own resources. The quantitative chapters of the dissertation also show that levels of local administrative capacity, as measured by the percentage of income generated by municipalities out of total revenue, only have an effect on the latter type of expenditures, but do not produce differentiated effects on performance or inequality. The dissertation also shows, through a qualitative exploration, that even though the stated purpose of the 2001 reform was to decentralize decision-making, it appears to have sparked a growing trend to recentralization of funding and decision-making. Despite this trend, with respect to the little autonomy municipalities have, those with resources and technical capacity are able to use to to experiment with new programs and initiatives. However, that does not appear to be the case for most autonomous municipalities. In those municipalities, political capture of autonomy for politicking and clientelism and the lack of administrative capacity hamper the use of autonomy to improve education performance and reduce inequality. Finally, the comparative exploration of seven Latin American countries largely confirms the findings of Colombia that the association between decentralization and performance and inequality tends to be weak.



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