The Education Reform Program, a federal government program overseen by the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, was launched at the beginning of the school term 2014-2015 with the aim of improving the infrastructure and equipment conditions of the most vulnerable schools throughout Mexico and enhance the quality of learning. The program applies to preschools, elementary and high schools. The program also aims to strengthen the management autonomy of schools by letting all the stakeholders in every school (parents, teachers and principals) decide how to invest federal funds in order to develop their school capacities.
The program’s innovation lies in encouraging public participation at every stage of the project, from the allocation of resources to specific projects to the monitoring of implementation. Public participation assists with achieving cost-effectiveness and may in the long run assist with the design of other federal programs that seek to fight the poverty gap.
Currently in its second year, the program illustrates several of the GIFT principles of public participation in practice, chiefly openness, accessibility, inclusiveness, timeliness, sustainability, transparency, reciprocity, respect for self-expression, and complementarity.
The practice takes place across most stages of the budget process: formulation, enactment, implementation and monitoring (but not proper audit). This mechanism is led by the executive branch at the federal level.
The program has several components.[ref] On the one hand, it aims to improve the physical condition and equipment of buildings in the participating basic educational institutions in the following areas:
- Construction, remodeling or rehabilitation of the educational spaces.
- Providing access to clean water and bathrooms.
- Providing basic equipment in the classrooms.
On the other hand, the program aims to further strengthen and develop the autonomy of school management, to promote local decision-making and to create conditions conducive to meet the priorities of the Basic Education Improvement System (SBME, in Spanish Sistema Básico de Mejora Educativa).
- Develop and strengthen the four educational priorities of the SBME (reading, writing, and mathematics; dropout prevention; minimum level of high school normalcy; and peaceful coexistence at schools).
- Develop and/or strengthen the capacity of the school community to exercise co-responsibility of school management autonomy.
- Procurement of services to solve basic operational issues.
- Adjustment and maintenance of school spaces.
- School equipment.
These public participation practices are part of The Education Reform Program, a federal government program that started at the beginning of the school term 2014-2015.
Who and How
A public trust is created for each school to manage the program’s resources with a Technical Committee in charge. The resources assigned to the school are transferred to the Principal on a debit card, and the funds are administered together with the School Board of Social Participation in Education (CEPS, in Spanish Consejo Escolar de Participación Social).
This is the main body in charge of public participation for the program and it exists as a collegiate body in every public school of basic education. It is composed of parents and representatives of family associations, teachers (and their union representatives who will attend as representatives of labor interests of workers), school officials, and students, as well as other members of the community interested in the development of the school itself.
All parents can, if they wish, participate, and the CEPS is led by volunteering retired teachers, each of whom is tasked with monitoring a number of school communities. The retired teachers who volunteer are chosen by a committee formed by the local and federal government, and act as external, independent reviewers, since they are no longer employees of the Ministry.
The main responsibilities of CEPS are:
- Defining the projects the school is to carry out with government resources. This is done through the “School Improvement Roadmap,” a document created by CEPS in which the school community defines the projects that the school is to carry out with the resources transferred by the Ministry of Finance under the Reform Program.
- Providing for accountability by generating an activity report each year that includes the main results of the program. The report is presented to the school community annually.
Public participation is also fostered through a Committee of Social Accountability where only parents who belong to the specific school community can monitor the accomplishment of goals and committed actions, as well as the proper use of public resources. The Committee decides on the order of priority for the allocation of resources and it reports on the completion of the projects to the CEPS, with photographic evidence.
In case an anomaly is detected, the Committee can file a complaint. These complaints can be received and addressed by the Education Authority directly from the complainant by phone, a written report or by internet through the following means:
- At the local education offices;
- By phone[ref];
- By email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com);
- Through the Website of the Ministry of Public Education (http://basica.sep.gob.mx).
The Ministry of Finance also developed an online platform that includes program explanation, guidelines, and geo-location (http://escuelas.transparenciapresupuestaria.gob.mx/). The public can monitor education projects through this online platform that allows any user to track down the projects authorized and the resources being spent. It provides photographic evidence of their progress.
The portal contains information on the size of the school, the total approved support and the total delivered support. It also shows how much of that support has been used up by the school community, and it details what the funds have been spent on.[ref] The web platform is updated at least on a quarterly basis.[ref] It is also possible to file a complaint through this online platform. Since the project is very recent, for now there is no data available regarding the number of or the results of these complaints.
Schools that are eligible are identified based on the Census of Schools, Teachers and Students of Basic and Special Education’s Shortcomings Index for Schools (Índice de Carencias por Escuelas in Spanish). The Index is based on the following variables:
- Type of construction of the building;
- Material property;
- Availability of water;
- Availability of bathrooms, latrines or black holes;
- Basic classroom furniture.
The Secretary of Public Education publishes a list of schools that show serious or very serious shortcomings. The list is verified by the Local Education Authority (AEL, in Spanish, Autoridad Educativa Local). To be eligible, schools have to:
1) Submit a document containing the schools’ decision to participate in the
program and agreeing to its terms and conditions;
2) Verify that the information about shortcomings is correct.
3) Verify that the school will be operational in the school cycle 2017-2018.
4) Verify that the school property satisfies the requirements prescribed by
the regulations in force.
Results and Impact
The program has benefited over 20,138 schools identified by the “Census of Schools, Teachers and Students of Elementary and Special Schools” as those with the highest deprivation levels in terms of infrastructure and access to public services. The program is reviewed annually, with plans in place to continue it beyond 2016.
For 2016, the program’s funding was boosted by funds from the Multiple Contributions Fund, a federal program that transfers funds to subnational governments. For the 2015/2016 school year, the total amount of support was $3, 620,562,619.86, and the support that has been used was $2,103,395,756.67. A total of 24,573 schools benefited from the program.[ref]
The online platform that helps citizens monitor the resources of the program by presenting evidence of the projects on beneficiary schools has been updated at least quarterly, allowing stakeholders and the public in general to monitor the progress of the improvements.[ref] As of May 2106, more than 200,000 photos were uploaded to the website as photographic evidence of project implementation.[ref]
There has also been a concrete reduction on the “need index” created by the Census of Schools, Teachers and Students of Basic and Special Education’s Shortcomings Index for Schools, through which the schools in need are identified.[ref] A perception-based survey by the Inter-American Development Bank found the following:[ref]
- Teachers have high expectations of the program and their work experience is better.
- Participation from the school community is generally high and there is good meeting attendance and participation by parents. There is generally more communication among everyone in the school community.
- There is a high level of agreement among parents on the ranking of the projects by priority;
- Principals have found the program to be a satisfactory and positive experience;
- Parents, teachers and students see positive improvements and in general a more positive attitude.
- Teachers have identified positive changes in the attitude of leadership of the principal and in school community life, resulting in a better working environment.[ref]
The public participation component of the program has been widely accepted by government officials and civil society.[ref]
In the long run, the general design of the public participation scheme can be applied to different programs and initiatives, which can expand the program boundaries.[ref]
The program is thought to be successful by government officials because of its targeted nature:
- Information from the school index identified the schools that are most in need (schools that are most vulnerable and are in most dire need of help with respect to infrastructure were identified based on the school census results) and also the key needs;
- The communities’ decision-making focused on determining what is a priority project for their schools.
- Finally, the ease in the administration of the transparency platform contributes to keep information about the program operation updated and useful for accountability purposes.
Issues have included the unionization of teachers in some states, which has on occasion colluded with program participation as in some cases the union did not allow teachers to participate in the CEPS. Other issues have been the fact that the funds for the projects were transferred on a debit card to the principal, and that, in some cases, financial education was necessary for successful implementation and to ensure proper financial management.[ref]
Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy
The School Reform Program offers a good example where a number of the GIFT principles of public participation are engaged in practice, and in effect, work together well to strengthen each other. The principles that are most visibly observable and are the most important for this practice are inclusiveness, respect for self-expression, and accessibility.
- Openness: This practice illustrates openness because information is provided to the participants on the key elements of the program.
- Inclusiveness: The practice illustrates inclusiveness since the entire school community, including all parents, are welcome to participate in the CEPS.
- Respect for self-expression: Every parent is welcome to participate in the CEPS and the Social Accountability Committee (who are not public servants and who do not have a conflict of interest) is allowed to express his or her interests as he or she wishes. The retired teachers who participate in the CEPS, although independent of the Ministry of Education, may not be completely disinterested and independent.
- Timeliness: Sufficient time is provided for decision-making.
- Sustainability: The process is institutionalized in the sense that CEPS and the Committee of Social Accountability are formally constituted committees, there is a dedicated portal with quarterly reports and published guidelines, and there is an opportunity to provide feedback or report irregularities or issues through the portal. According to Ministry of Finance and Public Credit officials, complaints are followed up on.[ref]
- Accessibility: Financial information is available through the portal for the project, detailing the total amount of support offered, the total amount of support used nationwide, and detailing for each project the same information, including specific information on the use of the resources. In addition, photographic evidence is available to monitor the completion of the projects through the online portal. Over 200,000 photos were uploaded of completed projects. The program guidelines are also available on the portal. The full IADB evaluation is also available on the website.
- Transparency: Public engagement in the process is supported by all information being available for participants.
- Reciprocity: All entities in the process are transparent about the interests they represent.
- Complementarity: Existing budgeting and project selection processes are complemented by the program, as it adds the element of local engagement and decision-making by involving the parents and local communities in the process. In addition, accountability is also strengthened by involving the local communities in the decision-making and monitoring process.
Type of Government
Mexico is a presidential, multi-tiered democracy. It is a federal state: political authority is distributed at the local, state and national levels. At the national level, power is separated among the three main branches of government: the executive (Presidency), the legislative (Congress of the Union: Senate and Chamber of Deputies), and the judiciary (Supreme Court, Council of Federal Judiciary). The Constitution of 1917 is in effect.
Mexico moved towards democracy through three major waves of reforms taking place in the 1990s and the early 2000s. These reforms – themselves the results of civil society advocacy efforts as well as public pressure, among other factors– opened up the national budget process to more transparency and public participation. The reforms included decentralization, reforms to the Superior Audit Office and the adoption of laws increasing transparency at the national level, such as the Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Public Government Information.
These reforms opened up the space for more freedom to experiment with participation at the local level, and also allowed civil society organizations (CSOs) to monitor the national budget process more closely by being able to gain better access to financial information.
Participation in fiscal policy and the budget process occurs mostly through expert-based CSOs, such as FUNDAR, GESOC, Transparencia Mexicana, and others. It also includes discussions with academics at institutes such as CIDE and CIESAS, among others. In addition, CSOs collaborate with the government through the Open Government Partnership and the Accountability Network (Red de Rendición de Cuentas). The launch of the Transparency Portal in 2012 and the annual Citizen’s Budget in 2010 have also increased CSOs’ ability to monitor the budget.
In 2016, Mexico was categorized as “partly free” by Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Report.[ref]
Open Budget Survey 2015
According to Open Budget Survey 2015, The Government of Mexico provides the public with substantial budget information. It scored 66 out of 100 in the Open Budget Index. This is an improvement from 2012, when the country scored 61 overall.[ref] However, the Government of Mexico is providing the public with limited opportunities to engage in the budget process. The score for Public Participation in the budget process is 44 out of 100. Budget oversight by the supreme audit institution is adequate and it scored 92 out of 100. However, budget oversight by legislature is limited and it scored 45 out of 100. [ref]