In the 1980s, Spain spent about 8 percent of its national budget on education. In 1983 education expenditures amounted to only about US$120 per capita, which placed Spain forty-fifth in the world in per capita spending on education, far behind most other countries in Western Europe. In the government's 1988 budget, expenditures on education were scheduled to increase by 18 to 20 percent over 1987, to about US$170 per person. Nevertheless, rapid increases in other areas meant that spending on education declined as a proportion of the total budget, to about 6.7 percent. This level of expenditure was not only too little in an advanced industrial society, but it was also distributed in a way that was skewed toward the expensive private-sector schools.
In the 1970s, the Ministry of Education and Science began to confront the paradox that, although the General Law on Education (Ley General de Educacion--LGE) made primary education free and obligatory, the reality was that the state could not build schools or hire teachers fast enough to keep up with the demand. The consequence was a widening gap between the rising student population and the number of places available for them. The solution lay in the short run in state subsidies to private schools that enabled them to offer basic primary education free or for a reduced fee. Thus, although the government could claim that by 1977 there were enough places in school to go around, in some major cities, such as Madrid, more than half were provided by private schools.
By the early 1980s, about 40 percent of all schools were private. Of these, just over half were run by the Roman Catholic Church and enrolled some 1.2 million pupils in primary schools and 230,000 in secondary schools. The remainder of the private schools were operated as profit-making enterprises by secular owners. The religious schools often were highly regarded, and the instruction they offered probably was superior to that provided by the state-run institutions. The other private sector schools varied greatly in quality. Although a few were excellent, many others were seriously underfunded and poorly staffed, so that private secular education was not automatically associated with elite education as was the case in some other West European countries.
Between 1977 and 1982, the government's annual subsidy to private education nearly tripled. As a result, by the time the center-right coalition UCD government left office in late 1982, most primary schools were free. Unfortunately, this policy had to be paid for by drawing on funds available for state schools, with a consequent loss of teachers and instructional quality in the public system.
The Socialist government that came to power in 1982 sought to soften the conflict between private (largely Catholic) schools and public schools by integrating the private schools into the country's overall education system. To accomplish this goal, in 1984 the government passed the Organic Law on the Right to Education (Ley Organica del Derecho a la Educacion--LODE), which established three categories of schools. Free public schools were accountable to either the Ministry of Education and Science or to the governments of the autonomous communities. Instruction was subject to the principles of the Constitution, in that it had to be ideologically neutral and it had to respect diverse religious beliefs. The second category, private schools, usually secular, could be organized by any person or group as long as constitutional limits were observed. These schools were to receive no state assistance so that all costs were borne by the students' families. The third category, mixed schools, usually religious, were financed by the state. Nevertheless, the director and the faculty were chosen by a school council, or consejo escolar (pl., consejos escolares), made up of representatives of the school's diverse constituencies, including parents and faculty. Although the state did not try to control this subsidized sector, the consejos were a clear signal that it intended increased democratization in this all important realm of society. In all three models, students enjoyed the right not to receive instruction that violated their religious beliefs.
As a result of these educational reforms, during the two decades after 1965 Spain had made great strides, enrolling essentially the entire population in the age group of the primary grades and reducing the country's illiteracy to a nominal 3 to 6 percent. The really impressive gains, however, were in the secondary grades and in higher education, especially for women. In 1965 only 38 percent of Spain's youth were enrolled in secondary schools, one of the lowest percentages in Western Europe and only about 60 percent of the average of all advanced industrial countries. Only 29 percent of the country's females, less than half the industrial countries' average, were enrolled in the secondary grades. By 1985, an estimated 89 percent of all students and 91 percent of females were attending secondary schools. These figures conformed to the average of the industrial democracies, and were noticeably higher than those in Italy, Britain, or Sweden. At the university level, enrollment more than quadrupled in percentage terms, from 6 percent in 1965 to 26 percent in 1985, a level about 30 percent lower than the industrial countries' average, but still higher than that of Britain or Switzerland. In 1980 women constituted 40 percent of university enrollment (48 percent in 1984), a level only four to six percentage points behind France, Belgium, and Italy.
Nevertheless, in terms of the school-age population per teacher, Spain still ranked forty-seventh in the world, and in terms of the percentage of school-age population in school, it ranked twenty-second. In this area, demographics were working in favor of Spain's educational planners, however. Spain's "baby boom" lasted about a decade longer--until the mid-1970s--than similar phenomena did in the rest of Europe, but after 1977 the birth rate fell at a faster rate than it did in any other country in Western Europe. As a result, planners expected that the school population pressures of the 1960s and the 1970s would soon abate, giving the country's educational system some much-needed breathing space.
The minister of education and science through most of the 1980s, Jose Maria Maravall Herrero, has written that the country's educational system must fulfill four important functions: to promote the cohesion of the nation (i.e., cultural integration); to contribute to the integration of society (i.e., social integration); to foster equality of opportunity (i.e., economic integration); and to socialize citizens to hold democratic values (i.e., political integration). Spanish political elites recognized that, despite the remarkable political and economic transformation of their country, they were still presiding over a society split by cultural, social, economic, and political differences that had endured for generations. The country's educational system did little to overcome these divisions until the restoration of democracy; since then, education has become one of the principal instruments in national integration.
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