LUIS ANDRES HENAO
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- Chilean president Sebastian Pinera on Monday named the head of a government agency that promotes gender equality to be the new education minister.
Carolina Schmidt replaces Harald Beyer, who was impeached by Congress last week.
Schmidt was previously minister of the National Womens' Service. She is the best-rated cabinet member among Chileans with a 71 percent approval rating, according to a recent survey by pollsters Adimark.
But her new job will be daunting.
After two years of student marches that halted Chile's major cities and stoked expectations of change to a troubled system, the education reform debate is a key issue ahead of November's presidential vote.
"The new education minister assumes a mandate that is ambitious, clear and very demanding," Pinera said. "That mandate seeks to advance firmly, without hesitation, toward a country that can assure all its children and young people quality education."
The senate impeached former minister Beyer last week for professional misconduct for failing to monitor profits in the education sector. Beyer, the most unpopular cabinet member, was banned from holding public office for five years.
His supporters say opposition lawmakers were politically motivated, trying to flex their muscles ahead of the vote. Beyer, a career veteran, advised previous governments on education policy and cut rates for student loans while in office.
Pinera' government has focused a chunk of the 2013 budget on financing school loans at lower rates.
But students say it's not enough and the system still fails them with poor public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers and unaffordable loans.
Student leaders want to change the tax system so the rich pay more. They also want the state to resume control for the country's mostly privatized public universities to ensure quality.
Luis Andres Henao reported from Santiago, Chile. Marianela Jarroud also contributed to this report.
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