Pagina Principal  

English Report

The proposal by FUNDEB – despite the extension of federal financing of public education beyond the elementary level – has been criticized by  educational and social organizations for excluding early childhood education and daycare centers for the attendance of children of zero-three years old. If the proposal was ratified in its present form  it would have a negative impact on the access to education of the youngest children of low-income  mothers.


The Economic Restrictions for Public Education

Sergio Haddad and Mariângela Graciano

In 2005, the educational policies of the federal government continued the projects and programs of its previous years without, however, fulfilling the election promises made by the current administration of President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva. Here we analyze the Federal plan while, at the same time, recognizing the role of state and municipal agencies have played in implementing a plan to improve school attendance.


It is a case of the Management and Development Fund for Primary Education (FUNDEB) acting in accordance with the proceedings of the National Congress. The Federal initiative (under Lula)  merely imported the policies of the Basic Education Development and Aid Fund (FUNDEF) from 1998 (under the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration). Its financing of education was only for children from the ages of seven to 14 years. 


These policies excluded funding for early childhood and pre-K education as well as for young adult education. Currently, this continuation of FUNDEF policies assists 32 million students. With the creation of FUNDEB, an estimated 47 million students could have received assistance with the inclusion of all student groups: Early childhood, pre-K and young adults in all municipal and state systems, as well as professional, adult, rural, indigenous and special populations.

The logic of the policies remains the same: States without the resources to make a minimum investment in students at the state and municipal levels of education would receive complementary resources from the federal government. 


The proposal by FUNDEB to extend the federal financing of public education beyond the elementary level  has been criticized by  educational and social organizations for excluding early childhood education and daycare centers for the attendance of children zero-three years old. If the proposal was ratified in its present form it would have a negative impact on the access to education of the youngest children of low-income mothers and mothers-to-be.

In an attempt to reverse the situation, organizations that act in the interests of educational rights and women’s rights mobilized and made efforts, during the long year that was 2005, to include day-care centers in the proposed legislation. However, subjected to financial restrictions imposed by (the administration’s) economic policy, the program has moved through the National Congress without alterations.

The new Federal Fund, FUNDEB, still contains a reference, imported from FUNDEF, to the Cost of Student Quality, which is by FUNDEF’s definition, the value that must be invested, per pupil, to guarantee a quality education. The law establishing FUNDEF foresaw a definition of this value, which was never accomplished. The only measure of this value that was completed considered the tax that could be imposed to collect funds to pay for it, rather than the actual necessities of such an education. Thus an actual value was not determined by the Federal Government, but what it generated was a state and municipal debt on the order of R$19 billion (US$8.6 billion) since the inception of FUNDEF by the Cardoso administration.

The Lula government has not sufficiently respected the establishment of a Cost of Student Quality to repass it in its version of a basic education fund. FUNDEB did not mention a definition of the Cost of Student Quality, not even as a value to be foreseen. 

A social movement organized as the National Campaign for the Right to Education has arisen with the intention to establish a single, national value of the cost per student for a quality education. The Campaign promotes debates based on the notion that the amount of money budgeted for education must be directly related to the costs necessary to guarantee quality public education, based on the historic diversities in the country, not just on economic policy. This implies defining a value for the satisfaction of this objective, not for its negation, so that when budgetary surpluses do occur, as happened recently with the payment of debts, surpluses are not simply reinvested in the public policies that created that debt in the first place.

Another collision – between the practices of the Federal Government and the expectations of civil society – occured over the organization of the National Conference for the Right to Education. The processes of popular participation in the Federal Constitution of 1988 have already taken place and have been instituted in various areas and segments of government and society – until this moment, in this government, when a national conference making possible a public debate on the subject of education – with national impact and government endorsement – ran into the government’s own inability to take a position on education policy. 

The Lula government, in virtue of the historical commitments assumed by his Workers Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores - PT)  with regard to citizen participation in other areas (such as the promotion of racial equality and equality for women, for which specific conferences had been organized), for the first time raised expectations that this process would also be accomplished in the area of education.

In 2004, the Ministry of Education (MEC) promoted the formation of a mediation group involving social organizations and the government to bring about the conference. The main idea, which would be part of developing a theme, was to create municipal conferences that would  support state conferences, which in turn would send delegations to the national event.

The process, however, was aborted by the MEC for fear that the mobilization of the conferences gave visibility to critical issues to which the government would be vulnerable in the electoral dynamics that lied ahead in the coming election year and would bring to the fore the political crisis that deeply defined 2005. In this case, convenience politics was of higher importance than the commitment to social participation in the paths of public politics.

Little was also done to carry out political reforms that could improve the process of participatory democracy in education – or in city councils, state and federal ones. There are still other participatory mechanisms that could be fortified with the goal of extending social control of the public politic, as was the case with the Fundef council, which could monitor the use of public funds.  

Agenda politics, driven by the MEC, also ran over education. The political crisis involving the Workers Party, initiated six months into 2005, precipitated the second change of government ministers in three years. Urgently called to try to reorganize the PT, the former minister of  Education (and ex-president of the PT) Tarso Genro was replaced by Fernando Haddad.


Increasing  Access

In concrete terms, to increase access to education, the Federal Government implemented Programa Universidade para Todos (PROUNI), ot the “University Program for All.” In its first year, PROUNI sponsored 112,416 scholarships to institutions of higher education for public school students with family income less than the minimum wage, and for basic education teachers without higher education.

Of the scholarships offered, 41.54% were destined by quota systems to go to students of African descent.

In accordance with the MEC, PROUNI helped about 50,000 students of African descent to attend Brazilian universities.  Before the program, 25 percent of public and private school students were of African descent, which corresponded to a total of 875,000 black students among 3.5 million pupils.

According to MEC, an aditional five percent of black students were added in the first six months of 2005, bring the number of black students in higher education to 921,695. Without a doubt, it is a positive result. However, compensatory policies such as these would have to be instituted for the majority of the poor people in the country to sufficiently improve attendance in the public system of education in order to create a system that would enable university attendance to be truly open to all. 


Final Considerations

An important factor verified in the analysis of the politics of education in these last two years is that achieving the right to education is related to limited taxation for education and subsequent budgetary restrictions. 

It is evident that these factors impact the accomplishment of many other rights as well, in underdeveloped countries as well as in developed ones.  However, the current economic policy reserves a great part of the budget, as well as the increasing primary surplus, for the payment of interest. Thus it eliminates an effective transference of income to poor sectors, which, to achieve the right to education, would have to turn to public gifts from the financial sector. In this area, a general recommendation would be to seek answers less from the specific field of education and more from an appropriate model of development that does not limit the accomplishment of this right.

Social participation in organized civil society is important; participation that at some moments demands, pressures, and controls, and in other moments supports and helps the public to accomplish the right to  education. 

The central issue is the construction and accomplishment of  human rights, which has to foresee –  in the exercise of  educational politics at all government levels – the fortifying mechanisms of participation of the civil society at work, through advice and other instruments of social control.  It is important to count on the mobilization of society as an important factor for change and to count on the guarantee that public politics can be implemented in accordance with the interests of the majority.□


Sergio Haddad, General Coordinator of Action in Education

Mariângela Graciano, Assistant Coordinator of Action in Education