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La Educación
Número: (118) II
Año: 1994

Democracy and Decentralization

A Ministry of Education and Science (MEC) analysis of the Spanish model of reform stresses that “administrative decentralization...aimed at improving management procedures, could not of itself constitute a factor capable of giving an impulse to the democratization of the educational system.”9 Decentralization alone—the delegation of decision-making authority to a subordinate unit—might result in little more than transferring authority from a higher to a lower level of the bureaucracy. Such a change would not necessarily aid the democratization process.

The Spanish Constitution establishes that democratization will be tied to decentralization through “the effective participation of all sectors.”10 The mechanism of participation was provided for principally through the creation of the State School Council (Consejo Escolar del Estado) and the local School Councils (Consejos Escolares del Centro).

The State School Council functions at the national level, thus providing a forum for the major organized educational interest groups and selected individuals to come together, and, in theory, play a participative role in shaping the education of the nation.11 On this Council are representatives from teachers, parents of pupils, administrative and service staff, trade unions, private schools, universities, Ministry of Education and Science administrators, and distinguished educators.

The State School Council is not a decision-making body. However, the Education Law of 1985 (LODE) requires that it be informed and consulted by the central government on such things as new laws affecting the educational system, the educational program, and minimum graduation requirements.12 The Council is authorized to formulate proposals for the MEC to consider, as well as to write an annual report on the condition of the educational system. The Council is obligated to meet at least once a year.

The Education Law of 1985 (LODE) also provides for the creation of educational Councils in each of the 17 Autonomous Communities (regional governments formed under the democratic Constitution). These regional Councils are to provide for democratic participation of selected groups and individuals at that level. Very few of these regional Councils had been created by the early 1990s.

In its broadest form, democratic participation in the educational institution comes through the creation of a local School Council, or Consejo Escolar, in every public school and private school (receiving a government subsidy) in the nation. Unlike the State School Council, the local School Councils are decision-making bodies throughout the decentralization process. Democratization and decentralization are intended to come together at the local level when decision-making authority is placed in the hands of the elected parents, teachers, and students who make up each School Council.13

In theory, the State School Council (at the national level), the 17 Autonomous Community School Councils (at the regional level), and the individual School Councils (at the local level) are to provide a type of interacting umbrella of participation with each level reinforcing and facilitating the other two. However, during the first seven years of existence, serious collaboration between School Councils at the local, regional and national levels was still an unfulfilled promise.