Mexican lawmakers approved on Friday an educational overhaul that President Enrique Peña Nieto says will improve the quality of schooling in this nation of 113 million people.

Because the new arrangement involves changes to the constitution, the legislation must be ratified by at least 17 of Mexico's 32 states to become law.

The plan calls for measures to objectively evaluate teachers' performance and the creation of a professional teaching force without interference from unions or other groups.

Analysts see the changes as designed to take control of hiring away from the powerful SNTE teachers union, which initially greeted the president's proposal with praise only to subsequently denounce it.

The leader of the more-than-1-million-member union, Elba Esther Gordillo, contends that Peña Nieto's program threatens teachers' job security.

Gordillo, once described by a U.S. scholar as "Mexico's Jimmy Hoffa in a dress," says the SNTE will use all "legal, social, political resources" to ensure ""full respect for teachers' employment and dignity."

Peña Nieto hailed the passage of the bill in Congress, calling it the "first step toward transforming the education of our children and youth."

The president's plan also opens the door to allowing public schools to charge fees, an idea blasted by some leftist lawmakers.

Only 64 of every 100 Mexicans who start school complete their primary education and a mere two-dozen graduate from high school, according to government statistics. EFE