Education is the first item in the state budget. With 160 billion euros, domestic expenditure on education (DIE) will reach 7% of GDP by 2020. This has not prevented our country from having the most unequal education system in OECD countries. The latest results of the Pisa survey, which measured the results of 15-year-old students in 79 OECD countries, showed a difference of 107 points between French students from privileged families and those from the poor. Member States averaged only 89 points. It is a shame for a country to make equality one of the fundamental principles of the Republic.
This is in fact a distorted effect of the centralization of the State, which certainly makes it possible to establish a unified public service, which is accessible to all, but cannot resist the proliferation of education.
The first decentralization laws introduced in 1982 were designed to compensate for this phenomenon. But this movement to territorialize school policies opposed, from a legal point of view, the principle of equality, the State holding a dominant position limiting territorial communities to a subsidiary role.
It was examined by Pascale Bertoni and Raphaël Matta-Duvignau, professors of public law at the University of Paris-Saclay (University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines), as well as nine other researchers in the National thematic report. Center for the Study of School Systems (Cnesco) “Educational policies through the prism of deconcentration and decentralization: legal aspects”, published in March.
In the distribution of duties and skills in educational matters, local authorities have often complained that they are the “service providers” of the State. Why is he slowing down so much?
Teaching is not a service, it is a tool for passing on values. The State does not want to neglect this very important function established by secularism. In the preamble of the 1946 Constitution, it is stated that public, secular and free service is a duty of the State. This is the reason why he does not delegate it legally. The school is designed so that everyone can benefit from the same instruction throughout the territory. But this similarity, which can be explained by philosophical and legal reasons, has its limitations. Excessive inequality can kill inequality. Hence the idea of deconcentration.
Contrary to popular belief, the rectorates of the academic regions hold most of the powers, and not the ministry. In the 1980s, decentralization laws facilitated transfers of powers to promote this territoriality. The State has carved out the lion’s share, with a noble aspect of pedagogy. For local authorities the material aspect of building schools, school transportation, public service is not the heart of the educational function, but is essential for it. The limitations of decentralization are therefore legal, linked to the principle of equality. If we want to give educational powers to local authorities, we need to change the Constitution. But there is no political will to do so. Education remains an increasingly political tool.
Since the laws of decentralization, however, local authorities have been more involved in the education system. You show that the State is actually effectively locking down the system, thanks to educating students and teachers. Are local authorities condemned to remain limited to a subsidiary role?
Some communities want to go into the field of education, others don’t at all. But is this really the role of local authorities? The problem is the risk of recruiting consciences. The state level limits this risk. In order to transfer power over educational matters, all communities must be equal, which is not the case, due to financial and financial inequality. A problem we cannot solve. It is enough to look at the number of local finance and financial laws and fiscal equalizations to realize that they do not work. But poverty is not limited to Seine-Saint-Denis, it is also present in small towns, which are already struggling to meet their mandatory costs.
You write that “the transfer of State -run competitions is certainly for reasons of public service efficiency, but it is not without financial secret motives”. What are they?
Since 2008, from a goal of providing more skills to communities, we have moved to saving money. In order to meet Maastricht’s standards at all costs, because there is a problem with resources, costs need to be reduced. One of the solutions is to transfer skills to resources that are not sustainable. It encourages saving, which is not a bad thing! But there are limitations. I want proof of this in the reform of school timetables. For some communities, this is not a problem. For others, it’s a disaster, so the pressure goes back four days a week. These municipalities have to leverage their tax resources, with consequences for the local taxpayer. By trying to solve an inequality problem, we were able to do the rest.
Does the principle of equality preclude any attempt at decentralization?
The deconcentration of National Education was done at the level of the rectors. The creation of academic regions is designed so that the regional prefect has an interlocutor. These are not micro-policies, but territorialized policies at the regional level. We can’t think of Ile-de-France’s education policy as Larzac’s: the school fabric is not the same. It promotes the proper functioning of decentralization. From there to say that needs to go further… If local authorities spend on public service education using their own resources, then the taxpayer has his word to say. But we are on a mission of sovereignty. It must remain as defined by the State.
The principle of equality is a necessity. But it’s a mostly ideological concept, a myth. Some kids do well in school and some don’t. Above all, there are social inequalities. We can try to fight it to get the balance back. But equality creates unequal social strata, between affluent urban areas and difficult areas. Decentralization creates a gap between cities and rural communities. Not to mention the deserts of higher education. These inequalities are related to the nature of the territory. Restoring equality through decentralization: I don’t believe in it.