Evaluating Brazil’s Bolsa Escola Program: Impact on schooling and municipal roles

Bolsa Escola was a conditional cash transfer (CCT) program that offered mothers in poor households a monthly stipend if their children ages 6 to 15 attended school on a regular basis. The program was implemented across all of Brazil between the years 2001 and 2003, until it was folded into the broader Bolsa Familia program (Lindert, 2005). An original feature of the program is that it was decentralized at the municipal level, entrusting the municipality with roles in the selection of beneficiaries and implementation of the transfers. Expectedly, with decentralization, there can be considerable variation in the quality of implementation of the program and the magnitude of its impact on school outcomes according to municipal characteristics, due in particular to elements of local political economy in decision making. This paper follows on a 2005 report that analyzed the role of municipalities in implementing the Bolsa Escola program (de Janvry, Finan, Sadoulet, Nelson, Lindert, de la Brière, and Lanjouw, 2005, subsequently referred to as the 2005 Report). The analysis was based on a survey of 261 municipalities in four states of the Northeast. In that report, analysis was conducted at the municipal level, focusing on four municipal roles: beneficiary identification, beneficiary selection, monitoring-verification-enforcement of the school attendance conditionality, and implementation of accountability mechanisms through both a short route via a local council and a long route via electoral rewards on incumbent mayors.