School Choice in the Netherlands

Member Group : David Kirkpatrick

Surprisingly little has been written on school choice in the Netherlands, despite its long history – 100 years – of equal funding to public and private schools. A recent World Bank study helps to remedy this neglect.

One of the key features of the Dutch education system is freedom of education – freedom to establish schools, determine the principles on which the school is based, and organize classroom teaching. In fact, the Netherlands has one of the oldest national systems in the world based on school choice.

There is relative ease of entry of new providers. A small number of parents can propose to start a school. Government is required to provide initial capital costs and ongoing expenses, while the municipality provides buildings. The requisite number of parents required to set up a school varies according to population density, from 200 for small municipalities to 337 for the Hague.

Each family is entitled to choose the school – public or private – they want and the state pays. The main impediment to choice is distance, although parents are free to choose a school anywhere in the country since there are no catchment areas.

Money follows the students and each school receives for each enrolled student a sum equivalent to the per capita cost of public schooling.

Henry Patrinos, "Private Education Provision and Public Finance: The Netherlands," World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5185, January 2010.

There is little difference between public and private Dutch schools in average scores of pupils on standardized tests. Patrinos nonetheless finds that private schools outperform public schools. This finding is surprising since competition from private schools is expected to cause public schools to improve. Efficiencies of public schools are apparently not yet equal to those of private schools, even after a hundred years of choice and competition. Patrinos notes that it is the relatively less well-off that attend private schools in the Netherlands, so concludes that it is possible "the true private school effect operates via the value it adds for students from relatively less well-off backgrounds."

The educational system of the Netherlands is similar to one inaugurated in the early 1990s in Sweden. The Netherlands also "has one of the world’s lowest rates of teenage pregnancy, about a fifth of the British level; and far fewer deaths from drug overdoses than even Denmark.

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The preceding was derived from a "thought_du_jour" sent recently to me by Larry Willmore, a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria and from 1978-2004 an economist with the United Nations Secretariat beginning with service in Chile and ending in New York with intermediate postings in such locations as Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico and Brazil.

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"Article 23 of the Netherlands’ constitution guarantees that any school created by parents will be funded by the state as long as the government certifies the quality of the schools and approves the moral character of the teachers. Thus all schools in the Netherlands are state funded but most are run either by foundations or church-related organizations." p. 5, Martin Morse Wooster, Angry Classrooms, San Francisco, CA: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1994

"Perhaps the most striking feature about education in the Netherlands is the prevalence of religious schools. In 1990, a remarkable 63 percent of all primary school students and 64 percent of all secondary school students attended religiously affiliated schools." P. 612, Quentin L. Quade, Financing Education, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1996

"Holland probably has the most freedom of choice of education in the world–where a few dozen parents are able to open their own private schools with government subsidies (start-up costs and full tuition are paid by the state)." P. 217, Bruce S. Cooper, Journal of Education Finance, Fall 1993, book review of Peer W. Cookson, Jr., Ed, The Choice Controversy, Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press, 1988

"In the most densely populated country in the world, the average size of an elementary school is only 175 pupils, and in a decade when minimum enrollment requirements rose and student numbers declined,, the number of schools has increased." Karen Seashore Louis and Boudewijn A.M. van Belzen, "A Look at Choice in the Netherlands", Educational Leadership, Dec 1990/Jan.1991