The mood in Spain's classrooms is gloomy as the academic year begins with public school teachers announcing a wave of national rallies Thursday to protest against spending cuts they fear will undermine education in a country with a 45 percent youth jobless rate.
Education becomes yet another battlefront between between unions and government officials as the country grapples with an economic crisis marked by big deficits, the rising cost of debt and anemic economic growth levels.
The immediate spark of Spanish teachers' ire are new rules in some regions making them spend a few extra hours actually teaching class, because authorities are hiring fewer backup, auxiliary teachers _ a reported 3,000 in the Madrid region alone.
In Spain, education is largely run by regional governments, many of which are heavily in debt.
The Madrid regional government, for instance, which is run by conservatives, hopes to save (EURO)80 million ($112 million). It wants its secondary school teachers to teach 20 hours of class instead of 18. Their full work week is 37.5 hours.
Teachers say the austerity there and in other regions will mean bigger class sizes and less face-to-face time with students, and the outcome will be poorer education in a country eager to match the achievements of countries like France and Germany.
"Today's cuts are tomorrow's poor quality education," said Eliseo Moreno, a teacher and union leader. "Not tomorrow itself, or 2013 or 2014, but in 2020 and 2021. What we do wrong today will be paid back to us then in an even worse way."
Moreno was speaking after reeling off a laundry list of discouraging statistics about Spain, such as its roughly 30 percent school dropout rate and a stunning unemployment rate among people under age 25.
Moreno and other union leaders announced strikes and/or demonstrations on Sept. 14 and 20 and Oct. 22, mainly in secondary schools. The first day of school in Madrid for such public schools is Sept. 14. An outright strike there has been called there for that day.
The appeal came a day after thousands of teachers, parents and students marched through Madrid night to protest the personnel cuts.
"Education is priceless," one banner read.
Olga Gonzalez, a literature teacher in a school outside Madrid, said the planned changes mean she will have no time to run the school's student literary magazine.
"The 20-hour thing is the least of it. We do not want fewer hours, but rather more people. The ones they have taken away from us," she told the newspaper El Pais.