Education dilemmas

Image: Markus Spiske


From scrapping to the challenge of the far right

The historical importance of the creation of the Federal Institutes of Education and the expansion of Federal Universities throughout the Workers' Party governments since 2003 is undeniable. However, it is equally undeniable that the process of dismantling federal education began, unfortunately, back in the government of President Dilma Rousseff, with fiscal adjustments promoted by the then Minister of Finance, Joaquim Levy.

From 2016, with Michel Temer, until the end of Jair Bolsonaro's government, Federal Education Institutions (IFEs) suffered an intense process of physical and subjective destruction. Physical scrapping due to successive budget cuts, and subjective due to intense attacks on education (under allegations of indoctrination and chaos) and on public servants due to the consolidation of the neoliberal privatist logic.

The election of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) for his third term in 2022 was a boost for education workers and hope to stop the process of dismantling public services. However, the stance of President Lula's third term towards federal education employees raises serious concerns, especially for an administration that aims to be recognized as progressive.

It appears that the government chose the education sector to demonstrate to the financial market its ability to control public spending and adjust accounts in accordance with the New Sustainable Fiscal Regime, known as the Fiscal Framework (Complementary Law 200/2023). This stance contrasts sharply with the treatment given to “typical State careers” such as the Federal Highway Police, Federal Police and Tax Auditors, who received significant salary increases that year.

As demonstrated by Antônio José Alves Junior and Miguel Carvalho, in a recent article,[I] If the government met the demands presented by the Andes union, the budgetary impacts would be in the order of R$600 million for the year 2024, and something around 0,02% of GDP in the coming years. The authors also highlight the multiplier effects of public investments and the returns on these expenses to the public coffers in the form of tax collection. The option for austerity is a political option adopted by the federal government that promotes closed-door meetings with bankers and treats education employees with strict intransigence.

On June 10, the president met with deans of Universities and Federal Institutes to announce investments of around R$5 billion from the New PAC, for the construction of new fields and the budget recomposition of IFEs. The festive event featured a flurry of numbers and actions by the government. The event was not a meeting seeking dialogue and exchange of ideas, but rather a piece of political propaganda with the aim of self-praise and demobilizing the strike movement. Of course, investments in education should always be celebrated.

It turns out that when the president was speaking, education employees (administrative technicians and teachers) were standing idly by in a strike that has been going on for more than sixty days. Most of the actions and values ​​presented should be applied to the construction of new units, therefore, long-term actions. At the end of the chatter and embarrassed applause from those present, nothing was said about the civil servants' salary recovery.

The naive conscience of some teachers believed that the meeting with the deans could be a moment of goodwill on the part of the former union member, in an attempt to meet the demands of the employees and end the strike. However, Lula's speech was the culmination that humiliated the strike and consolidated the mark of the third term by blocking the union leaders: either they end the strike, or they will face demoralization.

The president's speech made the government's chain of command and position clear. From negotiator Luiz Feijóo (who assumed he was shooting himself in the foot), through minister Esther Dweck (teacher), ministers Camilo Santana, and Fernando Haddad (teacher) to President Lula, the government's harmony around the defense of the Fiscal Framework.

Government social media recently announced that we are the 8th largest economy on the planet. We are a rich country. Therefore, it is inconceivable that one of the sectors essential to development, such as education, is fighting for budget crumbs. How to build a country with technological sovereignty by counting coins for teaching, research and extension?

Within the Ministry of Education, the direction the government is taking is worrying. It is worrying that Minister Camilo Santana (PT) has not revoked retrograde regulations published by Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro, such as the New Secondary Education and Ordinance 983/2020, which causes damage to the teaching career and limits scientific production in Federal Institutes. The repeal of these regulations are administrative measures that do not involve increased spending; therefore, by not revoking, the ministry shows agreement with these regulations.

Camilo Santana's silence in the face of the advance of privatization of state schools and the advance of civic-military schools is also worrying. Silence gives consent? The minister must respect the federative entities, but, politically, he has the role of guiding the national debate and promoting the political/ideological dispute on such topics. Finally, the colonization of the MEC by business foundations (Fundação Itaú, Fundação Lemann, Fundação Todos pela Educação, etc.) that directly or indirectly influence decisions and the ministerial budget is unacceptable.

At the same time that financial resources are announced for the expansion of IFEs, the government talks rudely to the strikers and does not put a fair appreciation of the civil servants' careers on the horizon. How to adapt the creation of new fields and your demands for servers to the Fiscal Framework? It's not possible. Would the deliberate scrapping of careers and the consequent outsourcing of services be on the government's radar?

It is alarming that the MEC has been conducting, for decades, a silent privatization of higher education, since the budgetary squeeze for public institutions is accompanied by the transfer of a greater volume of resources to the private sector, which already holds a greater number of enrollment in face-to-face courses and distance learning (a tragedy!).

The PT, which had its origins in popular mobilizations and a discourse against the established order, is today the order itself, and has deepened the neoliberal policies of diminishing the State, continuing the project of “bridge to the future” by the Michel Temer government. Fernado Haddad's determination for fiscal adjustment, whatever the cost, under the approval of President Lula, even if it promotes meager sighs in GDP growth, will not be able to develop the country, much less contain the advance of the extreme right.

Lula III seems to be playing on high heels, and doesn't understand that he is no longer dealing with José Serra's “ball of paper” fake news in the 2010 elections. The current enemy is an extreme right with an impressive capacity for articulation, social engagement and significant international coordination.

Currently, a generation of graduates from the PT's public educational policies who are unable to practice their profession and survive in informality, or in precarious jobs, harboring deep resentment with this policy that defends the status quo and does not offer a future horizon. The government lacks a future plan for young people and the working class. This is the fertile environment for the advancement of the extreme right.

*Bruno Resck, geographer, is a professor at the Federal Institute of Minas Gerais (IFMG) – Advanced Campus Ponte Nova.


[I] The fiscal viability of the IFES teachers’ strike movement proposal. GGN newspaper.

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