Finding Ways to Keep Brazilian Teachers’ Salary Floor from Going Up

    Brazilian teacher

    Brazilian teacherUntil the Federal Supreme Court (STF) reaches a decision, Brazil will be waiting to hear if the Brazilian Constitution prohibits setting a National Salary Floor for the country’s teachers. This may appear absurd but it is true: in the name of each state’s autonomy, five governors have petitioned the STF to declare Law 11.738/2008 unconstitutional.

    The governors are complaining because they need to increase the monthly salary floor to 950 Brazilian reais (US$ 412.33) and limit the number of class hours to no more than six per day. A salary that is still so small and a classload, so heavy. It is possible, however, that the STF will consider them unconstitutional.

    The governors are reacting as if, in 1888, the President of a Province (as governors were then called) would have, in the name of the autonomy of the states, solicited the unconstitutionality of the Lei Áurea, which ended slavery in Brazil.

    But there is a difference: in that epoch, the “governor” would have had reason for concern about the disintegration of the province’s economy and finances as a result of the liberation of the slaves from one day to the next. The economy would have no workforce; it would be necessary to hire new workers.

    Unlike in 1888, the cost of applying Law 11.738 will increase incrementally until 2010. The higher the present salaries are and the less the present teacher classload is, moreover, the lower the cost of implementation.

    If, in Rio Grande do Sul, the enactment of the Salary Floor Law demands increased educational expenditures, Governor Yeda Crusius would have to attempt a budget reorganization. Were this not possible, under her leadership the people of her state would demand the additional resources necessary from the Federal Government, as is set forth in Law 11.738 itself.

    And should she not receive a satisfactory response, she would then have to turn the Rio Grande do Sul schools over to the country for administration, federalizing them, as is done with universities and technical schools.

    This is happening with the banks: to save them, the central governments are nationalizing them, directly or in a disguised form. To save the schools, however, the governors are asking that the law be declared unconstitutional. The children of Rio Grande do Sul deserve, in the minimum, the same treatment as the banks.

    If the state lacks the resources, the solution does not lie in finding unconstitutional something that should have already been in effect for decades. Unconstitutionality is an inadmissible recourse: all the states and municipalities accept the minimum wage set by the Federal Government; they accept salary floors for various categories; they pay their legislators and judges salaries that have been set by federal laws. When it comes to the teacher, however, they resort to the autonomy of each unit of the federation as a way of not fulfilling the law.

    On the 20th anniversary of the Constitution, the governors are demoralizing the Magna Carta, using it as a barrier to avoid meeting the educational needs of their states. In the name of states’ autonomy, they are trying to lessen Brazil’s obligation to take care of its children.

    It is sad to see that the 21st century has not arrived for many national leaders, who do not understand the role of education in the present-day world where knowledge is the principal capital. The explanation for this lies in the fact that we – legislators, governors and mayors – have private schools for our children.

    Because of this, it would be so important to approve the projected law under consideration in the Senate that obliges each elected officeholder to place his or her children in the school of the voters, the public school.

    Even as it is under deliberation, however, some people will certainly consider that project unconstitutional. It is as if the future of Brazil were unconstitutional, i.e., incompatible with the Constitution.

    Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

    Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome LinJerome@cs.com.

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