Church, State, and Civil Society:
The Netherlands' System of Schooling
In the international discussion about enlargement of parental choice and private deliverance of education, the Dutch arrangement is quite often regarded as a unique system. Central to this arrangement is the constitutional principle of freedom of education. This principle has resulted in approximately 70% of parents sending their children to schools established by private associations and managed by private school boards, yet fully funded and highly regulated by the central government. In the opinion of national interest groups as well as educational experts (e.g., Hermans, 1993; van Kemenade, Jungbluth, & Ritzen, 1981), this freedom of education and equal financing of public and private education from public funds makes the Dutch system exceptional. Foreign observers are also of this opinion, as illustrated by the last Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) review of Dutch education, in which the constitutional provision for freedom of education and the underlying compartmentalized organization of society has been designated as unique (OECD, 1991). The Dutch system developed over the course of the 19th century from a relatively secular school system, dominated by the national government at the beginning of the last century, to a plural system, with private school sectors dominated by religious groups. According to international observers—“the evolution of the Dutch system of …education is unique in the Western World” (James, 1989, p. 179)—this history is also regarded as remarkable.
The Dutch arrangement (and a few others, such as the Danish system) is of particular interest to those involved in the debate about parental choice and public financing of private education. For several societies,