The 73rd Amendment paved the way for a fundamental change in the way public goods are delivered in rural areas in India. Through the structure of the Panchayati Raj, local councils directly elected by the people are responsible for making decisions on an array of public good decisions. Twice a year, the councils must also convene village meetings (Gram Sabhas), where the villagers must approve their plan and their budget. Eventually, the Gram Panchayats are supposed to be given control over an even broader array of social services, including basic education and primary health care. The hope is that decentralization, by bringing decision-making closer to the people, may improve both the quality of social services delivery in India, which is in many ways disastrous (e.g., Probe Team (1999)), and its adequacy to meet people’s needs.
Kenya’s education system blends substantial centralization with elements of local control and school choice. This paper argues that the system creates incentives for local communities to build too many small schools; to spend too much on teachers relative to non-teacher inputs; and to set school fees that exceed those preferred by the median voter and prevent many children from attending school. Moreover, the system renders the incentive effects of school choice counterproductive by undermining the tendency for pupils to switch into the schools with the best headmasters. A randomized evaluation of a program operated by a non-profit organization suggests that budget-neutral reductions in the cost of attending school and increases in non-teacher inputs, financed by increases in class size, would greatly reduce dropout rates without reducing test scores. Moreover, evidence based on transfers into and out of program schools suggests that the population would prefer such a reallocation of expenditures.