In Spain, Protests and Strikes Rage Against Funding Cuts

Spain’s students and teachers have taken to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with government plans to cut education funding, Al Jazeera reports. Protesters carrying signs and wearing t-shirts emblazoned with their message marched on the education ministry this week calling on the ed minister Jose Ignacio Wert to step down.

One of the protesters, 39-year-old English teacher Fernanda Gonzalez, said that there was no more room in the Spain’s tight education budget for further cuts proposed by the government. More funding reductions will just exacerbate existing problems in a country that is already struggling to keep up with other European Union education systems in mathematics and foreign languages.

The protests coincided with a one-day strike by teachers, students and support staff that affected all levels of education. Organisers claimed a 70-percent turnout by teachers for the strike, while the education ministry put the figure at 20 percent. Protests were also held in several other cities, including Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, Seville, Valencia and Zaragoza.

Education reform is a popular cause for many residents of Spain, but protesters are arguing that the way the government is approaching the demands of the populace is wrongheaded. The country’s public education system has in recent years taken a substantial funding hit, as Spain complied with the austerity measures imposed on it by the EU and IMF as a condition for bailing it out after the 2008 financial collapse.

The protest and the strike were organized by the Platform for the Defense of Public Schools, an organization that’s claiming to be publicizing the impact of austerity policies on Spain’s schools.

They are also angered by a planned education reform, which sets new grading systems, allows for larger class sizes and boosts the proportion of Spanish-language classes at the expense of regional languages. The education ministry’s budget has been cut by 14 percent between 2012 and 2013. The cuts have caused university tuition fees to soar, led to larger class sizes, fewer grants for graduate studies and cuts to school buses for primary school students in rural areas.

Parents of students in schools around the country have taken some extreme measures to offset some of the problems created by tighter budgets. In the Monserrat district of Valencia, a group of mothers posed for an erotic calendar to fund school bus services for their kids that were cut.

Although the campaigners had their tongues firmly in cheek when discussing their money-raising scheme, the humor masks a serious problem that women have stripped to expose. Unemployment rates in their region are very high and many families are struggling to afford the gas money needed to drive their children to school themselves.