Broad Education Overhaul Bill Passes First Hurdle in Mexico
Lizbeth Diaz and David Alire Garcia - Reuters
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December 20, 2012

The bill would create an independent body charged with evaluating the performance of all primary and secondary school teachers, a first for Mexico. (EFE)

MEXICO CITY - Lawmakers in Mexico's lower house of Congress approved a broad education overhaul on Thursday aimed at checking the influence of the country's large and politically powerful teachers union.

The bill would create an independent body charged with evaluating the performance of all primary and secondary school teachers, a first for Mexico.

Following hours of heated debate, federal deputies voted 424-39 to pass the bill, with 10 abstentions, early on Thursday.

Under practices long-favored by the national teachers union, teaching jobs have been regularly inherited or sold, ranging in price from 60,000 to 150,000 pesos ($4,700 to $11,800) depending on location.

The union has been led for the past 20 years by Elba Esther Gordillo, a polarizing figure who was once an influential politician in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, but has broken ranks with the party.

As lawmakers debated on Wednesday night, Gordillo held a news conference and denounced the bill as a threat to teachers.

The bill would require the national statistics agency to conduct a census of teachers and schools, data that neither the government nor the union currently maintains.

The overhaul was originally proposed by President Enrique Pena Nieto days after he took office on Dec. 1. To become law, it needs two-thirds support from the Senate as well as approval by a majority of the state legislatures because it involves amending Mexico's Constitution.

($1 = 12.7213 Mexican pesos)

Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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