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Mexican education reforms signed into law

February 26, 2013

President Enrique Peña Nieto has signed major education reforms into law, outlawing the controversial sale or inheritance of teaching positions.

“Professional merit must be the only way to be hired, remain and advance as a teacher,” Peña Nieto said upon signing the law on Monday.

The legislation strengthens the control of the federal government over the public education system and weakens the hand of the powerful National Education Workers’ Union (SNTE). The largest trade union in Latin America with around 1.5 million members, the SNTE has been led by the polemic Elba Esther Gordillo for the last 23 years.

Gordillo has largely controlled access to the profession, allowing teachers to sell or pass on their positions. This practice enabled thousands of people who no longer work as teachers to remain on the payroll, including, in one infamous case, Servando Gomez Martinez, a co-founder of the Familia Michoacana and Knights Templar cartels.

The new law will introduce a standardized process for the hiring, evaluating, promoting and retaining of teachers, as well as establishing a census to determine the exact number of schools, teachers and pupils in the country. The reforms also aim to raise the proportion of students who complete secondary school to 80 percent and the number who complete high school (preparatoria) to 40 percent.

Having been agreed upon by Mexico’s main political parties, the reforms were passed by the Chamber of Deputies in December and were later ratified by the Senate and over half of the country’s state congresses.

Gordillo, who was elected unopposed to another six-year term in October, was conspicuously absent from the ceremony on Monday but has vowed to oppose any action that she perceives to be an attack on teachers’ job security, including evaluations of their performances. A highly influential figure in Mexican politics and a former supporter of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), she left to form the New Alliance Party (PANAL) in 2005.

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