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The Political Economy of School Size: Evidence from Chilean Rural Areas


  • Francisco Gallego

    () (Instituto de Economía. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.)


Public schools in Chile receive a per-student subsidy depending on enrollment, and are managed by local governments that operate under soft budget constraints. In this paper, we study the effects of this system on per-student expenditures. Per-student expenditures on rural areas are 30% higher than in urban areas. We find that about 75% of this difference is due to the fact that rural public schools are significantly smaller and thus do not benefit from economies of scale. Besides, we also show that in our preferred estimates about 50% of the students in rural areas could be moved to schools that could exploit economies of scale—i.e., these students could attend bigger schools traveling at most an hour a day in total. We show that even if we use conservative average speed rates or control for transportation, utility and infrastructure costs, there is a sizeable share of the students that could be consolidated. We argue that local governments that have soft budget constraints do not consolidate these schools giving the existing potential because of political factors: closing schools is harmful for mayors in electoral terms. Consistent with this claim, we find that a decrease in the degree of political competition in areas with better access to non-voucher transfers from the central government (i.e. with softer budget constraints) decreases the extent of the inefficiency.

Suggested Citation

  • Francisco Gallego, 2010. "The Political Economy of School Size: Evidence from Chilean Rural Areas," Documentos de Trabajo 375, Instituto de Economia. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile..
  • Handle: RePEc:ioe:doctra:375

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Gallego Francisco, 2013. "When Does Inter-School Competition Matter? Evidence from the Chilean “Voucher” System," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 13(2), pages 525-562, August.

    More about this item


    School size; rural schools; consolidation; Chile; education decentralization; political economy; soft budget constraints;

    JEL classification:

    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid
    • H52 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Education
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare

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