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Chilean legislators urge gov't to increase education budget

(Xinhua)

14:51, October 18, 2011

SANTIAGO, Oct. 17 (Xinhua) -- A group of Chilean Congress members said on Monday the government should increase education input next year to meet the demands of students who have marched since early May calling for more public spending on higher education.

Congress members from the right-wing Coalition For Change met on Monday with part of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera's cabinet to discuss the Budget's Bill and the crisis caused by the students' months-long protests.

According to the Budget Bill, the Education Ministry will have a 7.2-percent increase in its budget in 2012 compared with this year's budget of 11.65 billion U.S. dollars.

The increase is in response to the large scale protests of the university and middle school students since May who demanded increasing funds for public education and ending the profit in the subsidized private education.

"We believe that there are areas in which more significant compromises are required than the ones included in the Budget's Bill," said Hernan Larrain, a member from the Independent Democrat Union (UDI), "Therefore, we expect to work on these issues and convince the president that we have to take steps now."

Alberto Espina from Pinera's National Renewal party said the president has the opportunity "to go down in history if we can solve the issue."

"I believe it is in his hands to go down in history as the first president who faced the problem and modernized our education," he said.

The five-month-long protest campaign has won sympathy from many Chileans and weakened the popularity of Pinera's government, according to several polls.

The students also demanded free public education, a proposal rejected by the president, who in turn offered the extension of scholarships and assistance to some 40 percent of the students from lower income families.

The students canceled the talks with the government two weeks ago and called for new demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Over 100,000 students in Chile have marched since early May to press the president to increase public spending on higher education and remove public funds earmarked for profit-seeking institutions of higher learning.

They have staged the largest protest movement in Chile since 1990.


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