4. Funding and resources for education

The context in which this chapter examines education funding is exceptionally challenging. At the time of writing, in the second half of 2020, Brazil is facing a major health and economic crisis, adding to the pressures on an economy that had only recently begun to recover from a long and deep recession (OECD, 2020[1]). Many young people have had their education interrupted, and face increasing challenges entering the labour market as a result of the economic and health crisis. Schools and tertiary education providers have had to rapidly adapt to ensure continuity of learning, and now face new challenges to manage re-opening in disrupted institutional settings (Todos Pela Educação, Instituto Unibanco, 2020[2]). The education system therefore badly needs additional resources to cope with new pressures at a time in which resources are unusually constrained. Hard decisions on optimising and allocating resources will be needed. At the same time, this crisis may spur new ideas on how to govern, distribute and manage resources more effectively and equitably, and may stimulate difficult but much-needed reforms.

This chapter examines financial, human and material resources, covering how they are governed, used and allocated. Key questions for Brazil, explored in the following sections of this chapter, are:

  • Is the overall expenditure on education at the right level to effectively support learning and equity?

  • Does the distribution of resources across different regions, localities and institutions support learning and equity?

  • Does the allocation of resources between different levels of education – early childhood education and care (ECEC), primary, secondary and tertiary education, and other subsectors, such as adult learning and vocational education and training – support equity?

  • Are the mechanisms for raising, spending and distributing funding effectively organised?

As described in Chapter 1, municipalities are primarily responsible for funding and managing ECEC; municipalities and states share responsibility for primary and lower secondary education; and states are responsible for upper secondary education. The federal government takes primary responsibility for funding and managing postsecondary and tertiary education. The Brazilian Federal Constitution requires states and municipalities to devote at least one-quarter of their tax revenues, and transfers from central government, to the “maintenance and development of education”, including teacher salaries, school buildings and equipment (Presidência da República, Casa Civil, 2020[3]). The federal government contributes 25% of public funding devoted to primary through tertiary education, with states contributing 38% and municipalities 37%, after transfers1 (see Figure 4.1).

Table 4.1 summarises the funding structure of education in Brazil, per type of funding mechanism and per level of government. The structure has not suffered substantial alterations since 2010.

In federal countries, it is relatively common for the federal level to play a large role in tertiary education, either through financial support for tertiary students or through institutional funding. For example in the United States, after transfers, the federal government contributes 53% of public funding for tertiary education, but only 1% of public funding for lower levels of education. Similarly, in Brazil, the federal government has by far the largest role at the tertiary level, contributing 75% of public funding, but a much smaller role in lower levels of education, where federal funding covers only 14% (before transfers) of the overall costs (OECD, 2020[4]).

Brazil’s decentralised governance structure, in combination with the country’s wide regional disparities (discussed in Chapter 1), are associated with large expenditure differences between and within states. Figure 4.2 shows how wealthier states (and municipalities) – most of which are located in the South, Southeast and Central regions – are able to invest more per student. Expenditure inequalities have been significantly reduced since the introduction of the Primary and Lower Secondary Education Maintenance, Development and Teacher Promotion Fund (Fundo de Manutenção e Desenvolvimento do Ensino Fundamental e de Valorização do Magistério, FUNDEF), which was later replaced by the Basic Education Maintenance and Development Fund (Fundo de Manutenção e Desenvolvimento da Educação Básica, FUNDEB)2 (MEC, 2018[6]). Some estimates suggest that without FUNDEB, disparities in per-student expenditure across municipalities would be as high as 10 000%, in comparison to 564% with FUNDEB (Todos pela Educação, 2018[7])3.

As the main financing mechanism for basic (pre-primary, primary and secondary) education, FUNDEB requires each state and municipality to contribute 20% of the revenue they receive from certain taxes4, contributions and transfers to a state-managed education fund. The federal government then tops up this fund for states that have not reached the established minimum national level of funding per student (a national threshold calculated annually by the federal government). While this funding and redistribution mechanism allows wealthier states and municipalities to continue spending more than minimum requirements on their education systems, it also provides critical financial support to education systems in poorer regions that would otherwise have more limited funding available. Estimates suggest that in over nine out of ten Brazilian municipalities, FUNDEB resources made up over half of the total amount invested in education (Moderna, 2020[8]). Changes to FUNDEB brought by the Constitutional Amendment No. 108 (2020) are expected to further reduce regional disparities, and offer greater support to poorer states, and to poorer municipalities within states (Todos pela Educação, 2020[9]; OECD, forthcoming[10]).

Some Brazilian states and municipalities allocate resources to schools using a funding formula based on student enrolment rates. While details of each funding formula vary across the country, OECD research has found that simple per-capita funding models – that do not reflect variations in school types and populations – provide little financial incentive for improving inclusiveness and learning outcomes (OECD, 2017[11]). For example, allocation systems that narrowly focus on inputs (e.g. total student enrolment) may dissuade schools from trying to reduce the rate of grade repetition, or channel resources to help the most vulnerable students through to completion. While schools may pursue equity and improvement regardless of incentives, it can be helpful to align financial allocations with policy objectives (OECD, 2017[11]). One notable example at the federal level is the Direct Money to School Programme (Programa Dinheiro Direto na Escola, PDDE), where schools can apply for additional funding from the federal government to support improvements in a school’s physical and pedagogical infrastructure. The Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação, MEC) is currently rolling out the “Time to Learn” programme (Tempo de Aprender), which will offer performance-based financial incentives for teachers and school leaders who promote improvements in student learning outcomes, as measured by the Basic Education Assessment System (Sistema de Avaliação da Educação Básica, SAEB) (MEC, n.d.[12]).

Some states and municipalities are already pursuing innovative approaches to these challenges. For example, in Sobral, in the state of Ceará, the highest-performing schools are rewarded with additional financial resources. These resources are used to hire specialised teachers and experts to work in schools with the greatest needs. As a result, high-performing schools gain from the status of the reward, while low-performing schools gain more directly from the additional staff (Schleicher, 2019[13]). However, not all sub-entities in Brazil have mechanisms in place that encourage school improvement and high levels of performance.

The Brazilian government spends a large share of the national income on education. In 2017, public spending on education institutions (primary to tertiary education) comprised 5.1% of Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared with the average of 4.3% in Latin American (LATAM) countries and 4% in OECD countries5 (see Figure 4.3). Brazil’s National Education Plan (Plano Nacional da Educação, PNE) includes a target that government investment in public education should reach 10% of GDP by 2024 (Ministério da Educação, 2014[14]). As mentioned earlier, the Federal Constitution mandates minimum levels of education expenditure by states and municipalities. Until 2017, the federal government was also required to invest at least 18% of its revenues in education. While these types of financial goals and requirements have helped raise investment levels in education and other social sectors, Brazil’s focus on expenditure targets, independently of what the expenditure should deliver in terms of learning outcomes, may be contributing to resource inefficiencies.

Between 2000 and 2015, the share of public expenditure on primary to tertiary education, as a percentage of total government expenditure, grew from 9.1% to 14.3% (OECD, n.d.[15]). Following an intense debate in the context of an economic crisis, a 2016 constitutional amendment was passed, limiting non-interest spending across the public sector. In addition, a floor was established for expenditure on education6 and health – equivalent to 2017 spending levels, indexed to inflation, which is expected to stabilise expenditure in the sector in coming years (see Box 4.1). In light of demographic developments, the real value of education expenditure per student will likely increase.

The allocation of public expenditure in Brazil across different levels of education is similar to other countries (see Figure 4.4). The biggest shares of expenditure go to primary and lower secondary education, the two largest sectors of the education system. National data reveal that between 2000 and 2015, expenditure on every sector of education grew (see Figure 4.5), but growth was concentrated in early childhood (from 0.4% to 0.7% of GDP), upper secondary (0.6% to 1.1%), and tertiary (0.9% to 1.3%) education. These spending trends reflect political priorities of the time and increasing enrolment in these levels of education (see Chapter 2).

Despite the fact that two years of pre-school are mandatory in Brazil, expenditure on ECEC remains relatively low compared to other sectors, such as tertiary education, which is not compulsory and supports a much smaller share of students (see below). If Brazil is to further expand access to early childhood education – and in particular to disadvantaged students to help address inequality, as recommended by the OECD (OECD, 2020[1]) – increased spending at this level will be necessary.

Until recently in Brazil, overall education expenditure had been increasing, both as a share of GDP and total public expenditure. This trend, combined with demographic changes (discussed in Chapter 1), contributed to an estimated 10% rise in spending per student – as a percentage of GDP per capita – in primary and lower secondary public schools between 2002 and 2014 (World Bank, 2017[20]). Nevertheless, while Brazil’s per-student spending on compulsory education (excluding pre-primary) is similar to other LATAM countries, it remains lower than the OECD average (see Figure 4.6). This reflects the fact that Brazil’s per capita GDP is lower than OECD countries on average.

OECD evidence suggests that without further increases in funding, it will be harder for Brazil to improve educational outcomes. This highlights the importance of protecting the country’s existing levels of education investment, especially in times of economic downturn.

Despite increases in education spending over the years, Brazil has only seen limited improvements in national and international assessments (see Chapter 3), suggesting there are ways in which to achieve better results with resources that are already available. Mexico, for example, obtains higher PISA reading scores than Brazil, with a lower level of educational investment (see Figure 4.7). Even some sub-entities within Brazil are able to attain relatively high scores in the national education quality index (Index de Desenvolvimento da Educação Básica, IDEB) despite low spending levels (World Bank, 2017[20]). This was the case of the municipality of Mucambo in Ceará, in the Northeast region, which obtained one of the highest IDEB scores in the country in 2019 (9.4 in the initial years) despite having a budget lower than BRL 4 500 (2015) (Saldaña and Palhares, 2020[21]).

This is an important consideration since Brazil may not be able to increase per-student spending significantly in the short- or medium-term. Policies designed to introduce more accountability for results and the use of evidence to inform discussions on trade-offs (e.g. funding smaller class sizes versus teacher training or learning/digital resources) could lead to greater resource efficiency in the education sector. The decision to use FUNDEB allocations to incentivise improvements in learning, access and equity is a welcome step, although the details of how this would be carried out have still not been revealed. Box 4.2 describes several factors in the Brazilian system that raise the levels of spending per student, which if addressed could support more effective expenditure.

While Brazil’s per-student public expenditure in compulsory education was significantly lower than that of OECD countries in 2017, expenditure per tertiary student (USD PPP 16 232) was higher than the OECD average (USD PPP 13 342), and well above most LATAM countries (see Figure 4.6). However, international comparisons need to consider two particularities of the Brazilian context. First, these data refer exclusively to public spending per student in public institutions, as private institutions do not receive direct public subsidies. The figures thus reflect spending levels that affect fewer than 25% of Brazilian students. Second, the data also include expenditure on research and development, which unlike many OECD countries, are concentrated in public higher education institutions. As a result, it is likely that part of Brazil’s per-student expenditure at the tertiary level relates to other activities (e.g. research) of the universities that do not benefit students directly.

The large differences between per-student expenditure in compulsory and tertiary education raise important efficiency and equity questions. As discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, students from wealthier backgrounds are more likely to progress to more advanced levels of education and better able to gain entry into fully-subsidised public higher education institutions (see Table 2.1 in Chapter 2). As a result, nearly half of tertiary funding goes to individuals from the highest income quintile, and less than 10% benefits those from the lowest income quintile (see Figure 4.8). The Quota Law of 2012, (see Box 2.6 in Chapter 2) which imposes quotas on federal universities for the recruitment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds may help address these disparities to a certain extent. However, students from disadvantaged backgrounds will only be able to make effective use of tertiary education opportunities if they have received a strong basic and upper secondary education. It follows that in terms of improving the knowledge and skills of Brazil’s youth, it would be more cost-effective and equitable for the Brazilian government to prioritise investments in earlier years of schooling, where resources can benefit the most disadvantaged students most directly.

Financial resources in education can be misused, or become the target of corruption (UNESCO, 2000[25]; Hallak and Poisson, 2007[26]). Education is not only a large element in public expenditure, but it also involves devolved provision through multiple local agencies, sometimes with limited or inadequate financial accountability and transparency mechanisms (Burns and Köster, 2016[27]; OECD, 2018[28]).

In Brazil, there are a number of tools and processes that record and disseminate information on the planning, allocation and execution of public funding of education. This includes the Monitoring Council and Social Control consultation platform (Conselho de Acompanhamento e Controle Social) and the Information System on Public Funds for Education (Sistema de Informações sobre Orçamentos Públicos em Educação, SIOPE). Nevertheless, reports from the Brazilian General Comptroller’s Office (Controladoria Geral da União) and the Brazilian Federal Court of Accounts (Tribunal de Contas da União) reveal that education remains a frequent target of corruption, with around 60% of corruption cases in the country being linked to the education and health sectors (Ferraz, Finan and Moreira, 2008[29]; 2012[30]). Corruption in education can manifest itself in various forms, such as misappropriation of funds for personal advantage, fraud in procurement, or favouritism in public employment decisions. In Brazil, corruption ranges from highly-publicised scandals involving well-known politicians to small-scale schemes in school leaders’ appointments.

In addition to wasting public resources, corruption damages the quality of teaching and learning (Ferraz, Finan and Moreira, 2012[30]). The diversion of school funds takes away from a school’s infrastructure and educational material, and impacts the provision of school meals and teacher training. Delays or cuts in school staff salaries may also lower teacher motivation and impact school running.

National research has revealed that corruption is higher in municipalities with lower Human Development Index (HDI) levels, with more restricted access to information, or that receive a high proportion of federal funds in relation to their own budget. Since the early 2000s, Brazil has been introducing measures to monitor and prevent corruption, including regular and random fiscal accounting, and platforms to make public servants’ salaries information available. However, as discussed in Chapter 1, there are concerns that threats to the independence and capacity of anti-corruption agencies will jeopardise Brazil’s efforts to fight corruption. Not only is it important the Brazil avoid backsliding on progress achieved, changes to FUNDEB are an opportunity to strengthen oversight and public sector integrity in education (Campos and Castelar, 2014[32]; Ferraz and Finan, 2011[33]; Albuquerque and Ramos, 2006[34]).

Teachers are the key learning resource, and are discussed in depth in Chapter 5. Evidence on the impact of student-teacher ratios (and class sizes) on learning outcomes is mixed. For example, a study of Argentina where more teachers were recruited between 2000 and 2012, and teacher-student ratios fell markedly, reports no impact on learning outcomes (de Hoyos, Holland and Troiano, 2015[35]). Conversely, in a more targeted intervention in Kenya, a randomised controlled trial showed that locally recruited contract teachers introduced into schools to reduce overcrowding significantly improved learning outcomes (Duflo, Dupas and Kremer, 2014[36]). A simple conclusion would be that the value of additional teaching staff depends very much on their qualities and how they are used.

In Brazil, the ratio of 15-year-old students to teachers in public schools was, at 29.5, more than twice the level of OECD countries (13), and well above the LATAM average of 20 (see Figure 4.9). While lower in private schools where the student-teacher ratio is 22, this remains much higher than in benchmark countries. These ratios are national averages and may mask significant differences depending on school location (i.e. urban or rural, state), and resource level. For example, the student-teacher ratio for public and private schools in rural areas is 24.5, compared to a ratio of 28 in urban areas. Among OECD countries, the gap is slightly smaller, at 12.5 and 13.5, respectively. Across states, there are also important disparities. In Rio Grande do Sul, in the South, in the last years of elementary education, the average student-teacher ratio is 21, the lowest in the country, while Alagoas, in the Northeast, has a ratio of 32, the highest in Brazil (INEP, 2020[37]).

The PISA school background questionnaire asked school principals to indicate the availability of resources at their schools. These data need to be interpreted carefully, as they tell us as much about expectations as they do about actual resource levels. When considering only public schools, relatively few principals in Brazil appear concerned by a lack of teaching staff, or with teacher quality — a finding which is surprising given the relatively high student-teacher ratios in Brazil. For example only 21% of public school principals in Brazil felt that a lack of teaching staff held back student performance, compared to 29% of their counterparts in OECD countries and 37% in Costa Rica. (see Figure 4.10). One possibility is that school principals in Brazil are responding in part to falling school enrolment, and expectations that they will continue to fall in the future. While school leaders in Brazil do not seem concerned about staff numbers, they are concerned by teacher absences, with 38% of principals reporting that such absences make the school routine more difficult (INEP, 2020[39]).

Despite improvements in the availability of resources in recent years, many schools still lack access to basic material resources and infrastructure (UNESCO, 2019[41]). Between 3% and 6% of schools lacked water, electricity or sewage services, and over 65% did not have a canteen in 2017. An even larger share reported having poor infrastructure – around 10% of schools said they have ceilings, floors, doors, classrooms and bathrooms in inadequate condition. Only a quarter have green spaces and playgrounds for students. National data from the school census also show that school infrastructure varies between different states, with fewer resources in the North and Northeast, and with weaker infrastructure in the public than in the private sector (INEP, 2020[42]).

Physical infrastructure will be particularly important as students return to schools while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and social distancing and personal hygiene will be important in avoiding cross-infection. In this context, the federal government, through the PDDE, has transferred resources directly to schools to help prepare them for face-to-face classes. These resources should help ensure appropriate hygiene measures for teachers, students and staff.

Despite these issues, in Brazil, school leaders from secondary schools voiced around the same level of concern about infrastructure and educational materials as counterparts in OECD countries. Almost a third (32.5%) of secondary school leaders in Brazil felt that instruction was hindered by lack of physical infrastructure, compared with 33% in OECD countries, but much less than the average for LATAM countries (46%). In addition, 35% of Brazilian school leaders felt that poor quality infrastructure hindered instruction, slightly higher than across the OECD (32.5%), but behind the LATAM average (44%) (see Figure 4.10). One explanation is that Brazilian school leaders may have lower expectations of infrastructure and materials than in OECD and other LATAM countries.

There are large variations in the quality of school infrastructure across the country. For example, while 42% of schools leaders in rural, and 37% in public schools feel that instruction is hindered by the lack of physical infrastructure (OECD average 34% and 25%), only 22% in urban and 7% of school leaders in private schools say the same (OECD average 36% and 22%, respectively) (OECD, 2019[40]). Disadvantaged schools are also more likely to face shortages of educational resources (e.g. material or education staff) than advantaged schools, as reported by school leaders. While this is also the case across OECD countries, the disparities are particularly large in Brazil and other Latin American countries (see Figure 4.11). PISA results indicate that such shortages are associated with lower student performance, even after taking into account students’ and schools’ socio-economic profile (OECD, 2020[38]).

In recent years, Brazil has invested heavily in computers, Internet connections, software, and other tools of information and communications technology (ICT) in education (Trucano, 2011[43]). However the availability and access of digital resources remains comparatively low. According to PISA data, there are around ten students for every computer in Brazilian secondary schools (public and private), much higher than the ratios found in OECD (1.2) and LATAM countries (2.4) (see Figure 4.12). Moreover, inadequate Internet bandwidth and speed are widely reported. In Brazilian public schools, only 15% of principals say that Internet bandwidth and speed are sufficient, compared to 23% on average in LATAM countries and 64% in OECD countries. In rural Brazilian schools, only 10% of school principals report adequate Internet, compared with 16% in LATAM and 20% in OECD countries (see Figure 4.13). As expected, private schools in Brazil are better-resourced, with four students for every computer. But even in the presumably well-resourced private school sector in Brazil, computer availability is much lower than in many comparable countries (see Figure 4.12).

These PISA data may be compared with national sources. For example, primary schools run by Brazilian states (representing less than 20% of all primary schools in Brazil) are generally much better-resourced than those run by municipalities. In 2019, 75% of state schools reported that they had desktop computers available for students, compared with only 34% of municipal schools; 57% of state schools reported that they had access to the Internet for students, compared with only 21% of their municipal counterparts (INEP, 2020[42]). Most probably these figures reflect the better resource base of state primary schools, rather than a different approach to ICT.

International comparisons point to Brazil’s need for greater investment in ICT. However, international experience also points to some of the challenges in doing this well. Many countries have invested in hardware that is difficult to integrate and maintain. Others, including Brazil with the “One Laptop Per Child” programme (Um Computador por Aluno) have, since 2008, focused on increasing access. Evidence from Latin American countries however shows no significant improvements in learning outcomes as a result of this investment (Santiago et al., 2010[44]). Data from PISA also show that the relationship between more ICT resources and better learning outcomes is inconclusive. ICT infrastructure needs to be supplemented by investments to support teachers, implement curricula, and pursue other measures to improve teaching and learning. Brazil’s Programme of Innovation Connected Education (Programa de Inovação Educação Conectada) from 2017 is based on a more holistic approach, focused on expanding access to digital resources and developing the capacity to use them. While this has potential to lead to better outcomes, it is still too early to assess the impacts of this policy (Ministério da Educação, n.d.[45]).

A range of global and national developments – including the COVID-19 pandemic and a long economic recession – have increased attention to the use and allocation of resources in education. Ensuring that resources are effectively used to support learning and equitably distributed to meet the different needs of sub-entities and students will require attention to three key issues:

  • First, the current allocation of funding is not as equitable and efficient as it might be. At present, Brazil invests more in tertiary education than in ECEC, despite evidence that access to high-quality ECEC not only contributes to better learning outcomes but can also help reduce inequalities. Even within tertiary education, funding arrangements tend to disproportionately benefit students from advantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to enter free public schools. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have both argued for introducing fees for public universities – in combination with widely available loans and waivers for students from more modest backgrounds – as a way to improve equity and lower public expenditure (World Bank, 2017[20]; Karpowicz, 2017[46]). In addition, despite important improvements, there is still scope to improve equity through more effective distribution of resources across municipalities and states. Changes to FUNDEB are a step in the right direction, but more is needed to tackle this issue.

  • Second, education expenditure is insufficiently linked to expected outcomes, and a challenging fiscal situation will impose limits on additional education spending. Brazil’s difficult economic and budgetary context places education expenditure at risk, although until recently it had been steadily increasing. To sustain improvements to teaching and learning, Brazil will need to retain current levels of education resources. However, there is also significant scope to use resources more effectively and introduce greater accountability in education spending. For example, international data suggest that countries with similar expenditure levels are obtaining much better scores in PISA than Brazil. High rates of grade repetition in Brazil are also very wasteful of resources.

  • Third, data on funding for Brazil are limited. There are few internationally comparable data on private expenditure on education, and on capital expenditure. Many of the data points are from 2015 and 2016. The comparability, reliability and accessibility of state and municipal level funding data also remain limited. Such gaps severely limit international benchmarking and more fine-grained analysis of funding in Brazil. Better data and greater transparency would be key to inform allocation systems and funding reforms, and fight corruption. Amendments to FUNDEB, which aim to strengthen transparency in funding data, are a step in the right direction. 


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← 1. Transfers are net transfers of funds, designated for education, from one level of government to another (usually lower) level of government

← 2. FUNDEB was established in 2007, replacing FUNDEF, which only covered primary and lower secondary education (ISCED 1 and 2). In 2020, FUNDEB’s mandate was renewed and has now become a permanent feature of Brazil’s education funding system. Moreover, changes to its functioning are expected to help further reduce disparities.

← 3. These estimates take into account the functioning of FUNDEB before the 2020 amendments, which are expected to further reduce regional disparities in the future.

← 4. Income from the tax over services (Imposto Sobre Serviços de Qualquer Natureza, ISS) or the tax on private urban real state (Imposto Predial e Territorial Urbano, IPTU) are not taken into account by FUNDEB.

← 5. The data refer exclusively to public expenditure in education, and do not capture private spending or public spending on tertiary student support schemes (as opposed to institutional subsidies). As discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, at least 20% of Brazilian students in compulsory education, and 75% of those in tertiary education, are enrolled in private institutions, many of whom receive assistance to cover tuition fees. If these expenditures were accounted for, these figures would be even higher.

← 6. This does not take into consideration expenditure under FUNDEB.


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