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Italy’s teachers and students strike against proposed education reforms

Teachers, students and union members in seven cities across Italy took to the streets on May 5 to protest education reforms currently being pushed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Marches took place in Aosta, Milan, Bari, Catania, Palermo and Cagliari with about 100,000 protesters at the main march in Rome, according to Italian magazine Panorama.

The protests were in response to Renzi’s “La Buona Scuola,” or “Good School,” education reforms, which were approved by his cabinet in March and are now set to go through the parliament. The reforms would give permanent contracts to 100,000 substitute teachers by September, pay increases to teachers based on merit rather than seniority, principals more authority to handpick who gets hired, and increase the number of hours of unpaid internships high schoolers must perform.

“This is the key reform for our country and we are convinced and proud of it,” Renzi told Reuters in March after his cabinet approved the proposed reforms.

Protesters, on the other hand, say these reforms will only leave public schools underfunded, give private schools an unfair advantage, and exclude many substitute teachers who are currently working on temporary contracts.

“We are here to demonstrate against a law that will modify the rules for schools, in the same way that our constitution has been modified,” Vincenzo Alessandro, a local Italian Confederation of Workers’ Trade Unions union leader, told Euronews. “We have a school that was based on providing education to all the community, now they want to substitute this with a school that divides students into first class and second class.”

Even the faculty at the school where Renzi’s wife, Agnese Landini, works as a teacher overwhelmingly voted against the proposed reforms in November. Meanwhile, Education Minister Stefania Giannini has expressed confusion over the protesters’ opposition to the reforms. “We respect strikes but are puzzled by the reasons,” Giannini tweeted. “With ‘Good Schools’ we’re going back to investing in education.”

International bodies, as well as the Bank of Italy, have blamed Italy’s education system for the country’s recent economic stagnation. Italy only spends 4.9 percent of its gross domestic product on education, a lower proportion of its national output than every other country in the eurozone according to Eurostat. The country also has one of the highest high school dropout rates in Europe. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, only 56 percent of Italians aged 25-64 have a high-school degree.

The last strike over the “Good School” reforms took place on April 24 when thousands took the streets in Rome. On the day before that, flash mobs reportedly occurred in over 100 Italian cities. The protesters have vowed to continue with more actions until the education reforms are dropped. The next march is scheduled for May 12 with legislators set to vote on the bill sometime before May 19.