Graduation ceremony at an American university, in 2019.
Graduation ceremony at an American university, in 2019.Brian Snyder (Reuters)

The governor of Georgia, a state in the United States, decided in 1992 to launch a system ―HOPE (Aid to outstanding students in education, according to its acronym in Spanish)― through which tuition at a public university is paid to any student with a high school record of at least a notable high, regardless of family wealth. The model, still in force, is financed with the winnings of the lottery, which is played mainly by the most humble, with a black majority. On paper it was a good idea, absenteeism fell and university students rose. But if you go into detail, you discover a reality that is perpetuated: this recognition only for academic excellence has increased the inequality between rich or middle-income families -mostly white- and humble ones. Because, in comparison with the neighboring States, the percentage of students without resources barely grew in the classroom, while the percentage that finished secondary school rose by an average of 12.3% and access to a grade by another eight points, but the rise was focused on the wealthy white student body.

The new policy of scholarships in Madrid to study early childhood education, Baccalaureate or post-compulsory FP studies in a private school is in this line in terms of recipients: it will allow families who earn more than 100,000 euros a year to enjoy a scholarship ( maximum of 143,652 euros in a household with two children) also ignoring the disadvantage of the humble. However, the Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso assures that these will have priority in the granting of the scholarships and will receive a greater amount: 3,750 euros when the per capita income does not exceed 10,000, and 2,000 euros when it rises to 37,913 euros.

In Spain, people with many resources have never received scholarships without requiring anything in return. The minister José Ignacio Wert, a decade ago, complicated the calculation of the income thresholds to have the aid and demanded a better file to “promote the culture of effort”, but he never considered ignoring the family economy. In the time of Esperanza Aguirre, the Community of Madrid created scholarships for university excellence for the best students regardless of their assets, but maintains a game to rescue students without means who do not have state aid for various reasons.

“In Georgia what is known in sociology as the matthew effect. When the criteria for the allocation of resources is excellence, those with higher incomes end up benefiting, because they have had the resources to solve the problems”, explains Gabriela Jorquera, advisor to the High Commissioner for the Fight against Poverty. Childish. “When boys and girls from poor homes encounter a problem, what do I know, with the equations, they will not have the opportunity to go to an academy, have a tutor, or have their uncle who is a chemist spend two afternoons. That is why it is more difficult for them to finish the educational stage with excellent grades”, she continues.

“What is happening in Georgia is not directly transferable to what is happening in Madrid, whose criteria is income, but the poor are also going to pay for the rich,” says Jorquera. “Is it reasonable to support with public resources people who would make the same decisions and have the same opportunities without that help? When there is a context of many resources it is not a dilemma, but it is not the case (in Madrid)”. She also recalls the enormous income differences, although the average for the region is the highest in Spain: 15% of Madrid families are at risk of poverty, according to the INE.

Georgia Gov. Zell Miller bragged three decades ago of creating “the most inclusive scholarship program in all 50 states” because it wasn’t just about minorities and poor whites. And Ayuso follows that path, although without reaching, as in Georgia, even the greatest of millionaires. “What the Community of Madrid wants is for middle incomes to have some kind of help because they are the ones who always pay and never receive anything, taking into account that inflation is destroying everyone’s economy,” Ayuso argued last Saturday. The Popular Party supported her on Monday.

Consequence of State Scholarships in Georgia? The rich whites have come out on top and in the early years, there was even ―and this is reflected in a study by the University of Georgia― the so-called HOPE Mobile, a phenomenon that was characterized in 1994 and 1995 because in 25% of Wealthier counties saw car sales rise as parents put some of the money they had saved for college tuition to buy a car for their bright scholarship son.

Georgia went from being the State that financed higher education the least in 1992 to being the one that financed the most, and his idea was copied in a dozen States, such as Florida or South Carolina. Twenty-two years later, the inequality gap continues and the newspaper Washington Post he dedicated an extensive article to it last May. Currently, in five states ―South Dakota, South Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia― scholarships not linked to student income exceed 90%, but they only reach 100% in Georgia. By contrast, in California, only 0.1% of scholarships are linked solely to excellence.

The amount of scholarships in private centers is going to double in Madrid ―from 64.70 million this course that has ended to 127.15 million next year― and equity experts warn of the harmful consequences that it will have for the most vulnerable households. needy, like in Georgia. “Giving aid to people who do not need it will widen the distance between social groups. This funding could be given to schools that are in unfavorable environments, for example, to provide them with support teachers and materials that will improve the education of these students”, explains Cynthia Martínez-Garrido, professor of Research and Evaluation Methodologies at the Education at the Autonomous University of Madrid and one of the authors of a famous report that places Madrid at the forefront of school segregation in Europe, second only to Hungary.

Alvaro Ferrer, an equity specialist at the NGO Save the Children, provides new data: “Poor students repeat in Madrid five times more than those with more resources, when at the state level the proportion is four. And it is the second autonomous community, behind Asturias, where the socioeconomic and cultural level of the family has the greatest influence on educational performance, above the OECD average”.

“The growth of private schools that are going to receive students because the State is financing them will be financed with everyone’s money,” reasons Martínez-Garrido. “With its characteristics of student selection, with its extracurricular activities that require an extra investment…”, he enumerates. Jorquera also adds to the list the few dining room scholarships that are granted in Madrid (9% of children, according to a report by Save the Children): “These can play a fundamental role from the nutritional point of view, encouraging the acquisition of healthy eating habits and have an effect on educational performance.

“The effective thing is to invest in people who have barriers and also to do it in the stages in which they have the most difficulties. In education, the sooner it is invested, the better: in kindergarten or compulsory education”, stresses Ferrer. Although he specifies: “If the money is put into FP or Baccalaureate, let it be to cover the opportunity cost: to replace the income that you would have if your child were working instead of studying. But with these scholarships, that cost is not covered”.

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