Puerto Rico seeks school privatization as part of economic recovery
As residents of Puerto Rico continue to rebuild following Hurricane Maria, the US territory also remains in the midst of a massive debt crisis. One area that will see major reform as officials hope to cutback on government spending is education.
Governor Ricardo Rosselló has announced his plan to close over 300 public schools in Puerto Rico, which amounts to a decrease of approximately 30% of public schools located in the territory. Over 140,000 Puerto Ricans had left the territory for the mainland US by November, 2017, with approximately 14,000 being public school students,and that number has grown to a reduction in over 22,000 public school students as of January. However, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education, Julia Keleher stated in an interview with NPR in October 2017 that the public school system in Puerto Rico serves 345,000 students, meaning over 300,000 students still require public educational services across the territory.
Governor Rosselló has argued that the current educational system in place in Puerto Rico is not conducive to talent development among students and teachers. Rosselló hopes for a massive overhaul of the public school system in Puerto Rico, in which charter schools and private school vouchers will be utilized. Keleher has also supported measures to changing the public school system in Puerto Rico, stating that they “definitely have to close schools” in Puerto Rico and that she has inherited a system with too much bureaucracy
The changes proposed by Governor Rosselló and Secretary of Education Keleher have not come without criticisms. Keleher has been accused by Puerto Rican Teachers Federation president Mercedes Martinez of using Hurricane Maria as an optimal excuse for implementing widespread privatization measures and public school closures that were planned even before the crisis. President Aida Díaz of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR) and President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers have also criticized Keleher’s model of shutting down many of the existing public schools and decentralizing those that remain in Puerto Rico. Charles Venator-Santiago, a political scientist at the University of Connecticut, believes that the massive changes to the education system in Puerto Rico proposed by Rosselló may also be a way to curry favor with the current presidential administration, in which US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been an ardent supporter of the voucher system. Governor Rosselló is a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, and a move towards a privatized voucher system of education in Puerto Rico could open a pathway to statehood for the U.S. territory.
It appears unclearin the present if Governor Rosselló’s plan to expand the private voucher system will be instituted in Puerto Rico, however the proposed plan would be expected to begin in 2019.