Bachelet launches battle to reform Chile's schools

Santiago, May 19 (EFE).- Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Monday launched the political battle to overhaul an educational regime that is largely the legacy of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Augusto Pinochet, who slashed government support for public schools and encouraged privatization.

"We're starting the most significant educational reform of the last 50 years," the Socialist president said.

She spoke after having presented the initiative's first bill, which - according to the administration - gathers together the main demands of the student movement that emerged in 2011 and called for profound change in the country's educational model.

But some student organizations are not convinced.

Confech, which represents the university federation, called a march for Wednesday in Valparaiso, Chile's legislative capital, and several high school student organizations have announced their support for it.

Bachelet also will be in Valparaiso on Wednesday, since she must present to Congress the first public accounting of her second presidential term, which began on March 11.

"Several measures go against the positions that the student movement has established," said Melissa Sepulveda, the president of the student federation of the University of Chile, upon announcing the demonstration.

"There is no willingness to move against market education, to really confront those who profit from education," she said.

"I would recommend reading the bill first," government spokesman Alvaro Elizalde advised on Monday, while Education Minister Nicolas Eyzaguirre repeated his call to student leaders for patience and confidence.

Bachelet emphasized the significance of the reform and said that the bill presented on Monday "gathers the demands that have been put forward on the streets" and is designed so that Chile "may have quality, free and comprehensive education."

The bill calls for barring for-profit educational institutions and for gradually phasing out fees at private schools that receive public subsidies.

Chile's lower house has already approved the president's proposal for a hike in corporate taxes to finance the changes in education.

"We're putting in place guarantees, we're doing what our students have been repeating so much, education is a right and not a privilege," said Bachelet, adding that the measures "are not the result of luck, they are the result of the dialogue with civil society, by experts and lawmakers."

Leaders of the New Majority governing coalition said that they are expecting a full debate in Congress, while the right-wing opposition has announced their rejection of the move.