The Limits of Redistributive School Finance Policy in South Africa
Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has embarked on extensive reforms aimed at promoting social cohesion, including progressive educational finance policy (e.g., the no-fee school policy) intended to redress historical inequalities. Because improving equality in and through education is vital to social cohesion, this case study examines whether the no-fee school policy has equalized—or is perceived to have equalized—school resources and educational opportunities in basic education. Using a mixed-methods approach that draws on household and school survey data and in-depth interviews, we find that the no-fee school policy has reduced the financial burden on black South Africans but that wide gaps in school resources remain. Moreover, we find that the concentration of black students in schools in the poorest areas and of white students in schools in the wealthiest areas rose between 2003 and 2013, and that some black South Africans are dissatisfied with their poor access to elite schools and the superior educational opportunities they offer. Our study argues that South Africa’s current school finance policies may be better characterized as pro-poor than redistributive, and points to implications for social cohesion.