Mexico Congress approves contested education reform

MEXICO CITY Wed Sep 4, 2013 4:15am EDT

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto smiles after his annual state of the union address in Mexico City September 2, 2013. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto smiles after his annual state of the union address in Mexico City September 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Tomas Bravo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to a government bill to overhaul an education system that badly lags global peers, despite teacher protests seeking to derail it.

The Senate gave the nod to the final so-called secondary law of an education bill that regulates the tests that President Enrique Pena Nieto says teachers should take periodically to ensure they are up to standard. New teachers could lose their teaching jobs if they fail.

The Lower House approved the bill on Sunday.

Thousands of teachers have marched in the capital in recent days to protest against the education reform, and on Sunday groups of masked youths threw rocks at Mexico City police in riot gear, who responded with teargas.

Lawmakers approved Pena Nieto's wider education bill in December, but the secondary laws were pending. The reform seeks competency exams, merit-based promotions and aims to tame a powerful teachers' union many blame for hurting school quality in Latin America's No. 2 economy.

The education measure is part of a wider package of reforms Pena Nieto hopes will help boost growth in an economy that has long lagged its regional peers. The economy is expected to grow by just 1.8 percent this year, though the government is hoping for an expansion of around 4 percent in 2014.

Pena Nieto has already presented a banking reform plan that aims to boost credit and has submitted an energy reform proposal that intends to lure foreign capital to help stem a slide in output by state oil monopoly Pemex.

He is also poised to unveil in coming days an overhaul of the country's fiscal system to raise the tax take and wean the state off dependence on revenues from Pemex that fund around a third of the annual federal budget.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Simon Gardner and Alison Williams)

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