By RICARDO CASTILLO
After a long and weary debate on the night of Wednesday, April 24, that extended into the wee hours of Thursday, April 25, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies voted to abolish the Education Reform “imposed” by former President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2013.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) celebrated the backing he received from this house of Congress during his morning press conference on Thursday, April 25, which translated into a major victory for him as he fulfilled another of his campaign promises that led to his landslide victory during presidential elections in July 2018.
“It’s a decision made in the Chamber of Deputies in general terms,” he said. “They’ve fulfilled the objective of cancelling the ill-named education reform; I celebrate that we’ve advanced in this direction.”
The deputies approved the ousting of the old law – and gave their blessing for a new one, with 381 votes in favor, 79 against and two abstentions of the attending 482 deputies. The full roster of the Chamber is 500 deputies. The bill is now in the Senate for approval.
Most of the votes against came from the conservative National Action Party (PAN), but 12 came from the president’s own National Regeneration Movement (Morena), six from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), two from the AMLO-sympathizing Labor Party (PT) and two from independent deputies.
In his press conference comment, AMLO said that opposition had, for the most part, come from “the conservative party.” Of those who are generally on his side, he said, “I respect those that defend that policy, but I don’t share their position.”
The president added that the Education Reform was part of a package of “structural changes demanded from abroad” that also included labor and energy. A new labor law was approved last week, and by now it is highly unlikely that Peña Nieto’s Energy Reform will be tampered with since, unlike education and labor, it was not one of his campaign promises.
With the approval of the cancelling out of Peña Nieto Education Reform, AMLO heaved a sigh of relief, saying that this “a problem out of the way.”
What does the “new” revamping of an old education law do this time? Here are seven points that will regulate teacher contracting from now on:
- There will be selection procedures or evaluation for the admission, promotion, upward movements of all Mexican public school teachers.
- The labor rights of the teachers will be ruled by Article 123, constitutional Sidebar B.
- The National Institute to Evaluate Education (INEE) will be eliminated.
- It will be replaced by the National System of Continuous Education Improvement, to be coordinated by a decentralized public organization.
- The General Law of the Professional Teaching Service will be abrogated.
- All evaluations will be suspended except those dispositions that empower the current National Coordinator of the Professional Teachers Service of the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP).
- All acts applicable to the General Teaching Service Law that affected the permanency of female and male teachers in service are now suspended, and those teachers who were laid off by the previous reform will be reinstated.
A heated point during the debate was Transient Article 16 of the Sidebar B, which defines how teachers from normal educations schools are admitted into the SEP and which PAN deputies Juan Romero Hicks and Jorge Preciado argued “runs the risk of being misinterpreted.” They said that that was the reason the PAN voted against it.
Romero Hicks further explained that “it leaves open the risk of a special regime in which the initiation and promotion process would not be based on merit, but rather according to a criteria subject to the influence of unions. The poisoned apple is the possible interpretation outside of orthodoxy and that is lamentable as the Transient Article 16 is just that, a poisoned apple.”
Deputy and former Senator Preciado went even further in offering the PAN vote of approval of the entire package if that article were to be abolished.
“Scratch it out and you’ve got our vote,” he offered the Morena majority of deputies. The article remained as written.
The fear of the PAN deputies is that, with this article, the headache union known as the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) is essentially getting a signed blank check in terms of admission, promotion and performance acknowledgement, as well as a free hand to participate in the design of education programs.
AMLO made it clear that it will be the SEP that does all the new hiring, not the unions, as it was done in the recent past, a power enhancement that produced the rotten corruption that led to Peña Nieto’s reform, which was intended to grab back that power for the state, and is now back to where it was in 2012, with one thing outlining the immediate future of employment regulations. “Unions don’t have the power to hire or fire, the SEP does,” AMLO made clear.
With this piece of legislation, AMLO’s recent “memo” that was deemed “unconstitutional” by jurists is fully legalized since now the law makes a clear division of powers, giving the state governments the administrative control of all public education teachers, awards budget control to the Finance Secretariat, protection of teachers’ rights to the Interior Secretariat (SeGob), and control of education programs, as well as hiring and firing, to the Secretariat of Public Education, in tandem with union participation.
In the eyes of many, there is no real change to Peña Nieto’s Education Reform, with the exception that “the punitive” part of it – which sent CNTE reeling into never ending protests – is now abolished.
But the question remains, will the CNTE teachers stay put and in place now that their plate has been filled?
Who knows. For starters, they are preparing a “national work suspension” for next week on the Labor Day, May 1, weekend.
We’ll see what they are up to when they open up a new bag of troublemaking. These guys are pro protesters and as everyone in Mexico has previously pointed out, they are not teachers.
But who knows, maybe they will surprise the nation that by now abhors the CNTE guerrilla road and street – rail road lines included – tactics. Let’s hope they come up with a pleasant alternative to improve the nefarious bunch of ragtag obnoxious teachers image they boast, and change it to what the nation wants, great teachers for their children.
After all, they get paid with tax money. Does Mexico deserve better from them? You bet.