|Educational Reform Conflicts Continue in Chile|
|Written by Matt Malinowski|
|Tuesday, 01 July 2008 09:12|
Chile's Chamber of Deputies approved the contentious General Education Law (LGE) with 96 votes in favor, 12 against, and seven abstentions on June 19. Officials from Chile's National Teacher's Association criticized the Chamber's decision and the said they would urge the Senate to vote against the proposal.
After more than a month of protests, voting on the LGE is finally taking place. "We reject this vote, and we are going to keep on insisting that the bill not be passed," National Teacher's Association President Jaime Gajardo told reporters.
The LGE is a reform package meant to replace the Pinochet-era Organic Constitutional Education Law (LOCE). The LGE calls for the creation of an Education Superintendent, which would be in charge of distributing government funds earmarked for public schools. The proposal also includes creation of a Quality Agency to monitor student performance and higher standards for people wanting to open up their own school with government funding.
After weeks of debate between the Concertación and Alianza, the LGE was endorsed by both the governing Concertación and the opposition Alianza last November. Bill supporters say that the LGE will improve the quality of Chile's public schools, and that the November accord must be upheld.
"We need to keep on working to improve Chile's public schools, which are run by their respective municipalities," Education Minister Mónica Jiménez told reporters. "We feel that signing this bill into law takes us in the right direction."
The bill's detractors, which include Ind. Deputy Jaime Mulet, maintain that the Ministry of Education and the Chilean government have not considered teacher and student concerns, such as the continued privatization of Chile's education system.
"Having to choose between only the LOCE and the LGE is a lie," said Mulet. "All this bill does is consolidate a US$3 billion dollar industry for 30 or 40 years more. This is an extremely serious problem, and for that reason, I voted against the bill."
Still, bill opponents face an up-hill battle to prevent the LGE's passage. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who backs the LGE, on Thursday received the support of heads of the Concertación's four parties: the Socialists (PS), Christian Democrats, Radicals (PRSD), and Party for Democracy (PPD). Meanwhile, Alianza senators have promised their support as long as the LGE is not modified.
"We are happy with the agreement," said PRSD President José Antonio Gómez. "It promotes both the Radical Party and Concertación's commitment to establishing a high-quality public education system . . . this pact permits us to advance education legislation and, more specifically, an education law that will bring results desired by all."
Teacher's Association Pressuring Senators
Chile's National Teachers' Association said that it has started behind-the-scenes negotiations with senators in order to prevent the LGE from becoming law. The Chamber of Deputies approval of the bill prompted the Teachers' Association to call off its four day-long strike. The Colegio de Profesores announced an end to their general strike.
"We have lost the battle, but not the war," said National Teachers' Association President Jaime Gajardo. "We have not only been able to unite and organize ourselves in this battle, but we have also drawn attention to something which is important both for us and the country's future."
"We have already been talking with senators about the possibility of blocking the LGE's passage through the Congress," said Gajardo. "We are calling on them to retract this bill."
Organization members said they will convene a national assembly on June 27, when association representatives from all of Chile's regions will debate the possibility of carrying out new strikes. They also promised work towards their goal of getting one million citizens to sign a petition against the LGE.
"We will dialog with our members to organize ourselves, discuss this issue, and insist on a new round of protests when the bill goes up for debate in the Senate," the association said in a press release.
Matt Malinowski writes for the Santiago Times. firstname.lastname@example.org