Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile] on Monday signed into law the country's most expansive education reforms in seven decades. In a deal reached by Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (IRP) [party website] and two opposition parties, the reforms will attempt to create a new system of school standards [AP report] for hiring and promoting teachers based on merit. While the president himself wrote [statement] simply that the "major purpose of this reform is to make education a force to transform Mexico," many suggest [Reuters op-ed] that the legislation intends to curb alleged abuses by the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Workers (NUEW) [union website, in Spanish], which is the largest labor syndicate in Latin America and is said to control the country's education system. Simultaneously, the new reform seeks to help the country's struggling youth by increasing the number of Mexican students who finish middle school to 80 percent and the proportion of those who complete high school to 40 percent. Additionally, it will allow for the first census of the country's education system, and it will extend learning hours in roughly 40,000 public schools across Mexico.
On Tuesday, a day after Nieto signed the education reforms, controversial NUEW leader Elba Esther Gordillo was arrested [NYT report] for allegations that she embezzled approximately $200 million for personal expenses that include California houses, plastic surgery and artwork. Known as "La Maestra," Gordillo is considered a figurehead [BBC report] in the country's political scene and a powerful kingmaker throughout Mexico. In September, then-president-elect Nieto announced [JURIST report] a proposal for similar constitutional reforms that would increase government transparency. He also announced plans to propose a national anti-corruption commission. Nieto's presidential election victory was confirmed [JURIST report] in July, thereby making him the first member of the IRP in 12 years to serve as president.