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Maintaining VAT for education a good decison. Interview with Education Minister Jose Pablo Arellano

ChilNet extract from El Mercurio
4 March 1997

(Ed. Note: Primary through high school children returned to classes this week, but the educational reform passed last year is still not fully in effect. Only some schools will be implementing the longer schoolday, and the government and the opposition still have not reached a consensus on how to finance the reform.

The following interview with Education Minister Jose Pablo Arellano, which touches on these issues and more, was published in El Mercurio March 2.)

EM: How much money is needed annually to implement the educational reform in all schools?

JPA: People have tended to associate the reform only with the extension of the schoolday. That is only one of the areas, which requires the investment of a significant amount of resources, because we are increasing weekly hours from 30 to 38 in primary and middle school education and up to 42 hours in junior and senior high school.

EM: Will city government pay for the growth in infrastructure?

JPA: No, the state will pay both things in the case of subsidized schools, which are the majority in the country. And that requires a significant and growing amount of funds. That is what has compelled the government to argue that it is necessary to maintain the VAT (sales tax) at 18 percent.

EM: Since Frei took power in 1994, he said that education would be the great leap forward. Why wasn't some other financing method planned for the reform, rather than maintaining the VAT at 18 percent in 1998?

JPA: Well, the longer schoolday is only part of the reform, and this announced only recently on May 21, 1996, not in 1994.

EM: Fine, minister, but you still haven't responded. Why does the government insist on maintaining the VAT at 18 percent, if the agreement was that that (rate) was temporary?

JPA: Because the extended schoolday is going to be permanent and growing over time.

EM: But why finance it through the VAT? Why was the proposal for a National Education Fund made by the Brunner Report rejected?

JPA: Because that fund included a program of selling public companies, and this has seemed to us a better financing method. We are recommending maintaining a tax and that the country, instead of stimulating consumption, invests those funds in education. It's a very good decision from the perspective of assigning the country's resources.

EM: Despite the criticisms that the Conversational Sessions on Affection and Sexuality (JOCAS) received last year, the government will insist on carrying them out in permanent and massive form this year. Why?

JPA: In the second semester of this year the sessions will be repeated in 200 schools. And what we are doing is collecting suggestions about how to improve the program.

EM: Can parents and guardians decide not to let their children attend the program?

JPA: Certainly they can. And not just that. We are going to give parents a greater role. It's the family that has the responsibility of giving sexual education to the children. This is an aid to them and consequently we have to involve them as much as possible in these sessions. We also aspire to having sexual education during the entire schooling process.

EM: Why does the state meddle in issues that correspond to parents?

JPA: What the state seeks is for educational communities, parents along with teachers, take charge of the issue, given that it is a reality that youths need sexual education. *

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