Dramatic changes in the public education system in Mexico being enacted by President Enrique Pena Nieto could be very good news for us in the U.S., and for the struggling Mexican people.
Pena Nieto’s administration has enacted broad education reform, which was fought by the National Union of Education Workers, representing Mexico’s 1.5 million teachers. The teachers union is considered the most powerful union in Latin America, and has had a stranglehold on Mexico’s education system for many years. The education system ranks at the bottom of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Changes would include teacher assessment, which has never been done in Mexico. The government also intends to crack down on the practice of buying or inheriting teaching positions, and stop the practice of paying teachers who are not only not there, but in some cases, deceased.
In a move that shocked the country, last Wednesday, it was announced that the Mexican government had arrested the powerful head of the union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who is referred to as La Maestra, or The Schoolteacher. Gordillo, who has been head of the union for 20 years, and lately ran unopposed for the position, was charged with organized crime. She reportedly embezzled over $200 million over four years from the union, with which she bought property—including near San Diego, California—plastic surgery (she does not look her age, which is 68), spent $20 million at the Neiman Marcus department store, and stashed considerable funds in overseas accounts.
The arrest of Gordillo, if it leads to real educational reform, has the potential to change politics in Mexico considerably. It was no secret that Gordillo encouraged her members to vote as a bloc, which made them very powerful. Education union leaders and members were often given powerful government positions in return for the votes. Currently, Mexico spends 22 percent of its public non-capital dollars on education—according to an article from BBC news on February 27—while getting little in return.
Educational reform in Mexico could be very good for the U.S., as more better-educated Mexicans would be less likely to become illegal immigrants here. With a strong and educated Mexico, North America would be a stronger and more stable continent. And without illegal Mexican immigrants, the U.S. could get back to growing more economically healthy instead of constantly arguing over immigration policy.