1) From the first experiment to the spread of the caisses des écoles (1849-1882)
In 1849 was created the very first caisse des écoles under the patronage of the National Guard, in the then 3rd arrondissement (borough) of Paris. At the time, municipal schools in the arrondissement were free but there were too few of them. Furthermore, households were too poor to pay for the enrolment in free schools or to buy proper clothes or shoes to their children for that matter. To address this Captain Barreswil, an officer from the National Guard, had the idea to hand the remainder of a disbanded battalion’s relief fund to the mayor of the 3 rd arrondissement of Paris, so that children who couldn’t afford attending school would have their needs catered for. Having collected donations from his fellow countrymen, the mayor set up a committee which handed out relief supplies as well as rewards to children worthy of it. School attendance went up and illiteracy down. Given the success of this experiment, other arrondissements created their own caisse. The first caisse at the département (county) level was created in the Vosges in 1865.
Victor Duruy, Minister of Education, proposed to legally recognize the caisses des écoles and to grant a subsidy for each caisse created by a municipality. Article 15 of the 10 April 1867 Act ratified this proposal. Yet since no regulations set out the organizational arrangements of the caisses, municipal councils had leeway to act in this area, subject to approval by the préfets (representatives of départements).
In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war and as the caisses des écoles had been disrupted, France was lagging behind in primary education. Public authorities encouraged the creation of new caisses whose development gained momentum, including in départements which until then had none. By 1878, 511 caisses des écoles were listed. When he presentend his reform of the education system to the Parliament, Jules Ferry emphasized the role the caisses ought to play. The passing of the Mandatory Primary Education Act of 28 March 1882 translated into an obligation for each municipality (article 17) to create a caisse des écoles . A draft statute adopted by most municipalities was proposed. Each caisse des écoles was chaired by the mayor (article 6) and administered by a committee made up of members from the education commission and of subscribers elected during a general assembly. What was sought was the regular active participation of individuals.
2) From 1882 to 1939: the caisse des écoles , a secular and public school of education run by individuals
Boosted by State subsidies, more and more caisses des écoles were created. By 1883, over 19’000 of them were listed.
However, the amount of State subsidies turned out to be insufficient to meet all subsidy requests and enthusiasm quickly subsided.
More over, rural municipalities with a low number of pupils were granted these subsidies while towns, with a high number of pupils, could not claim these subsidies because of their too high fiscal capacity. Article 54 of the Act of 19 July 1889 allowed subsidies to be allocated only to schools most active in helping destitute pupils. However under the Third Republic the system was rendered inefficient by the scarcity of fiscal resources.
Since primary education services became secular with the « Goblet » Act of 30 October 1886, the caisses des écoles could no longer contribute to encouraging attendance in private schools. The Conseil d’État ’s decision of 22 May 1903 on the caisses des écoles in the sixth arrondissement of Paris confirmed this.
In March 1912 two ministers, Guist’hau and Klotz, tabled a bill to address municipalities’ dwindling interest in the caisses des écoles . The text was rejected but another bill providing for a substantial increase of State subsidies was drawn up. A reform of the caisses des écoles ’ executive board’s composition was also proposed; the préfet’s representatives were meant to play a stronger part in the caisses’ action at the expense of representatives of the municipalities and subscribers.
World War I brought this legislative procedure to a halt. The administrative and financial regime of the caisses des écoles remained unchanged in the interwar period and were managed under private law. This meant available funds were allocated by the caisses’ treasurers to savings banks. A September 1912 decree reminded them that they had to deposit available funds into the treasury. Finally, a decree-law from 30 October 1935 on the caisses’ financial management was never implemented.
3) From 1940 to 1945: the secular nature of the caisses des écoles comes into question
During World War II, the legal situation of the caisses des écoles experienced significant changes. Indeed, the 15 October 1940 Act on the caisses des écoles abrogates article 15 of the 10 April 1867 Act and article 17 of the March 28 1882 Act and widens the scope of intervention of said caisses to pupils from private schools (a term which refers to Catholic institutions). However, no sooner were the executive boards of these schools created that advocates of free schools and secular schools both tried to enforce their ideology upon it. To address the situation, an Act from 2 November 1941 abrogated the 15 October Act and, alongside the caisses for schools that had become secular again, created caisses des écoles for private schools. Creating these was not compulsory and a municipality was allowed to set up several of them.
The 12 June 1942 Act permanently established the receveur municipal (a municipal civil servant) as treasurer. However a special treasurer could be appointed when a caisse’s activity amounted to more than 100'000 francs. Furthermore the Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors) was in charge of accounting in the caisses des écoles .
Following the liberation of France, the 17 April 1945 ruling reestablishing Republican legality in the education system acknowledged the nullity of the 2 November 1941 Act. Republican laws prior to 1940 were reinstated: the caisses des écoles became secular schools again.
4) From 1946 to 1959: the State’s planned disengagement
Under the 4th Republic, the State’s financial support to the caisses des écoles is paltry and it seems impossible to make up for the accumulated flaws. When drawing up the 1960 budget, the government decided to scrap subsidies. It was an easy decision to make given that since 1956 funds allocated to the ministries’ operating expenses were distributed via decrees and no longer discussed by parliamentarians.
As for the liquidation of the caisses of private schools, it was achieved on the basis of the interministerial order of 15 September 1958. Assets from the caisses dissolved were transferred thirty years later to the Public Treasury.
5) From 1960 to 1998: the caisses des écoles as a municipal public institution falling under public law
For a century, the organization of the caisses was described in model statutes appended to ministerial or prefectorial circulars, and the legislator highlighted the crucial role of private initiatives in their functioning. However the extension of missions entrusted to the caisses and the financial role played by municipalities required to redefine the financial regime and to change the composition of the caisses’ executive boards. The decree n°60-977 on the caisses des écoles was published on 12 September 1960: it established a difference between publicly funded caisses and those mostly funded by the private sector. The latter remain outside the scope of the aforementioned decree and still fall under the model statute Jules Ferry proposed. Nevertheless they fall under the provisions of the decree n°62-1587 of 29 December 1962 concerning general regulations of public accounting.
On the other hand, publicly funded caisses were governed by the decree of 12 September 1960. Article 2, amended in 1977 and 1983, sets out the executive board’s composition and makes a distinction between the caisses established in a city divided into arrondissements (Paris, Lyon and Marseille), those in « communes associées » (associated municipalities, uncommon) and those in other municipalities (the majority). Article 5 adds that accounting and financial rules of the caisses are those applicable to their municipality. A few adjustments were later made: the decree n°87-130 of 26 February 1987 enables executive boards of the caisses with revenue below 15,000€ to ask for a fiscal and accounting unification with the municipality; the decree n°98-1061 of 25 November 1998 sets out the fiscal and accounting rules applicable to the caisses. These provisions were all included in the general code of the collectivités territoriales (local authorities).
6) From 1999 to 2003: changes in the compulsory nature of the caisses
In the late 20th century, there is a stark contrast between very active caisses des écoles in some municipalities and other lethargic caisses which aren’t entrusted with any mission or no longer play any role due to the absence of pupils. Nearly 50% of the caisses no longer operate but still exist since municipalities can’t dissolve them. The assets of the caisses still appear in the balance sheets of public accountants.
Some municipalities whose caisses had become aimless illegally decided to scrap them. In many cases the préfectures or financial authorities prevented this, but stopped short of launching legal actions against those municipalities.
Since 1981, parliamentarians have been asking in vain for an end to the mandatory nature of the caisses des écoles . For ideological motives, successive governments have actually stuck to the status quo. Yet local representatives of small municipalities, little interested in political divides, requested through Senator Pierre Salvi the right to scrap a useless institution. A bill to that end was tabled in November 1984. Although the Senate adopted it, it was rejected by the National Assembly.
In reality, the abolition of the mandatory nature of these institutions was put back at the heart of the political debate only with the issue of the Chambois caisse. The Court of Auditors’ decision of 23 February 1999 invalidated the Regional Court of Auditors’ decision which granted full discharge to the accountant of the Chambois caisse, whose financial situation resulted from its dissolution ordained by the municipality.
In 2000, the 10 April 1867 and 28 March 1882 Acts were repealed and the provisions relating to the caisses were integrated into articles L.212-10 to L.212-12 of the Education Code. However the mandatory nature of the caisses remained untouched.
The coming into force of article 23 of the Act n°2001-624 of 17 July 2001, stemming from an amendment of Senator Michel Charasse, changed the law by stipulating that municipal councils were entitled to close the caisses des écoles if there had been no accounting operations over the past three years. These provisions were integrated into the third paragraph of article L.212-10 of the Education Code, but all they do is alter the mandatory nature. Indeed municipalities are still required to create a caisse.
7) From 2004 until today: towards more recognized powers for the caisses des écoles
Legal jurisdictions recognized to the caisses have long been defined according to the first paragraph of article 15 of the 10 April 1867 Act. At that time, the aim was to encourage school attendance through occasional interventions such as relief or rewards to pupils. But in reality and with the green light of the Conseil d’Etat, the caisses were entrusted along the years with missions that sometimes far exceeded what they had been meant for in 1867. As an example, they could – outside the scope of the law – adapt to new needs resulting from mass schooling and women entering the job market. They were led to organize and manage permanent extracurricular activities (cafeterias, summer camps…).
From the early 20th century, the government realized there was a gap between the legal definition of competences recognized to the caisses and administrative practices in this area. Incidentally the March 1912 Guist’hau-Klotz bill was precisely about redefining the mandate given to the aforementioned caisses; they were entrusted with “facilitating the functioning of public schools via all means conducive to increased school attendance.” These provisions never came into force due to World War 1.
When en 1995 metropolitan provisions regarding the caisses were extended to New Caledonia, the legislator made sure to redefine the mandate given to this public institution: its role is to promote school attendance and it can take charge of cafeterias and any extracurricular activity. Yet in metropolitan France the competences of some caisses des écoles are not redefined.
In 2000, as part of the codification process for legislative texts related to the caisses, the legal definition of the mandate entrusted to this institution was updated. However since, it couldn’t lead to an extension of the mandate. Thus the first paragraph of article L.212-10 of the education code provides that the caisse des écoles is aimed at promoting school attendance through subsidies to pupils depending on their family’s resources.
Nevertheless in 2001, the legislator took note of the inconsistency between the law and the reality in Parisian caisses des écoles . A second paragraph is added to article L.212-10 through the Act 2001-624 of 17 July 2001: “In Paris, the caisse des écoles can also take actions with social, education or cultural components in favor of pupils in first or second level institutions.”
In the summer of 2004, regulatory provisions related to the caisses were codified; they now appear in articles R.212-24 to 212-33 of the Education Code. As for article 93 of the 2004-809 Act of 13 August 2004 it allows, from 1 January 2005, the caisses des écoles to intervene in favor of children in private schools by changing the writing of article L.533-1 of the education code.
At last the provisions of paragraph two of article L.-212-10 of the aforementioned code were extended to all caisses by article 130 of the 2005-32 Act of 18 January 2005 on planning for social cohesion. From then on, the caisses are legally authorized to intervene in favor of children in first or second-level institutions in all areas of school life (social, cultural, education and health). In particular, they can create education success mechanisms. It means that an advisory council is set up at the initiative of the caisse’s committee. Its organization and mandate are described in decree n° 2005-367 of 30 May 2005 which, after article R.212-33, includes article R.212-33-1 in the Education Code, specifying the composition of the advisory council, and article R.212-33-2 which sets out its mandate.
More over the caisses des écoles can be involved in the implementation of the student services created by the 2008-790 Act of 20 August 2008. Indeed the municipality, through a convention, can entrust the organization of these services to the caisse (article L.133-10 of the Education Code). In Paris, Lyon and Marseille, the president of the municipality must inform without delay the president of the caisse of the parameters of these reception services, to expand access to information aimed at parents (article L.133-4 of the Education Code).