In an effort to stabilize and improve education in Brazil, in 2008 Lula signed a law that created a salary floor for teachers nationwide, one that was to be adjusted annually in an attempt to keep up with macroeconomic shifts and to ensure that the coast of teaching per student was met. A side effect of the law would also be a theoretically more consistent national level of education, as teachers would be less compelled to better funded, better-paying (and typically already better-educated) states. According to the law, every January, a raise in teachers’ salary floor that attempts to reflect the cost of living would be announced, and the states and municipalities would have to then implement the changes.
The government made its announcement a few weeks ago, calling for a readjustment of 11.36% for teachers’ salaries. However, amidst the economic difficulties Brazil has faced across the last year, 10 states, the Federal District, and the National Confederation of Municipalities are contesting the law, saying that amidst the growing inflation and shrinking economy in Brazil, they can only afford a readjustment of 7.41%, and saying that the 87% increase in funding education based on the cost of education per student has led to an already-unsustainable 37% increase in pay for teachers.
This is perhaps not surprising, and given that Brazil’s economic issues are considerable right now, this may not seem like an unfair complaint, especially as the governors’ and municipalities’ request is not to eliminate the increase in salaries, but just to temper it.
However, the governors’ collective letter gives away the game, saying that “The effects of the [economic] crisis are already making themselves felt in health and education,” and thus they shouldn’t be forced to fulfil the federal government’s annual calculation this year.
Again, the economic issue is real, but as is all too often the case, the first fields to suffer (by the governors’ own admission) are those that help the most people: health and education. Rather than curtail spending in other areas or tightening the state and municipal budgets in other areas, the first to go are the ones that help the disadvantaged the most. And it’s not like this isn’t an issue for people – a recent poll in Rio de Janeiro found that 54% of people interviewed believed public health was the “gravest” problem facing Brazil’s second-largest city, with corruption a distant third at 19.1% of respondents (23.7% said “security”). Meanwhile, after widespread protests led to São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin temporarily postponing his plans for restructuring education in the state and closing hundreds of schools, Alckmin is now moving forward with a plan that will lead to a 10% increase in students in classrooms that are already overcrowded, even while governors push to reduce spending on education for teachers whose classrooms will become even more crowded.
Whether or not this request is just a one-off, as the governors insist, is beside the point (though if granted, it wouldn’t be shocking if it would appear again in coming years, regardless of the economic situation in Brazil). What’s telling is that yet again, in a context in which high-ranking political corruption, the failures of massive corporations, and the lack of willingness for global capitalists to invest in Brazil amidst uncertainties – in other words, the failures (justifiable or not) of the elites – is leading to political elites to request that society pay (and suffer) for it in cuts to basic social services that had no direct bearing on the current economic crisis.