Puerto Rico Looks to Privatize Public Education
Instead of repairing damaged schools, Puerto Rico is looking to sell them to charter school companies
Six months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the island is still rebuilding. Part of the process includes building new schools. However, the island is broke and the Governor is trying to figure out how to rebuild with no money so in steps the vultures of public education, the charter school industry.
This isn’t the first time that charter schools have used a hurricane as an opening to privatize public education. After Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana decided to do away with the New Orleans Public School system, instead selling it to charter school operators leaving just 5 “public” schools open for the students that charter schools did not want to educate.
In Puerto Rico, Governor Ricardo Rossello and Education Secretary Julia Keleher are proposing to hand over the job of running the schools to these private companies. While charter schools are considered public schools, they receive both private and public funding and are run independently. The Governor’s proposal would close 300 public schools across the island and cut $300 million in education spending. The requirement to educate these students would then be handed over to charter school companies. The Governor has also proposed a voucher program that would pay for students to go to private schools.
Since they are independent of the school district, they do not have to abide by current contracts meaning that most operate with a non-union staff of teachers. As expected, the Puerto Rico Teacher’s Federation is fighting back. They say that charter schools will divert funds from public schools, meaning lower pay for teachers, less money for vital education resources, and worse benefits. They also say that this move to private-public education will have a negative effect on the students that they educate. The union cites the fact that charters are allowed to use a lottery system to enroll students and can kick out students who underperform or who have behavior issues. "They think that because our island is vulnerable because it doesn't have electricity, that we're going to let them privatize our schools, get rid of our teachers," Mercedes Martinez, president of the Puerto Rico Teachers' Federation told NPR.
In February, teachers marched to the Governor’s mansion in opposition to the charter plan, but Rossello was not even on the island. Instead, he was being wined and dined by the charter school industry during a tour of charters in Pennsylvania. "The government is looking for a quick fix for transformation of the school system, but they don't see schools as an investment for the future of Puerto Rico," said Aida Diaz, president of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico.