Puerto Rico’s Teachers Battle for the Schools Their Students Deserve

Source: Jesse Hagopian, The Progressive, May 9, 2018
 
On May Day, thousands of Puerto Rican teachers, parents, and students launched strikes and boycotts to push back against austerity measures that would close nearly 300 schools, lay off 7,000 teachers, convert public schools into privatized charters, and cut public sector pensions. I spoke with Mercedes Martinez, President of Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, about the neoliberal attack on the schools and public sector, the worker strikes and boycotts of May Day, and the brutal response of the police. …

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Puerto Rico Plans to Shutter 283 Schools
Source: AJ Vicens, Mother Jones, April 6, 2018
 
The Puerto Rico Department of Education announced late Thursday that it would close 283 public schools next school year, citing a decline in enrollment of nearly 39,000 students and the island’s ongoing budget crisis.  “Our children deserve the best education we are capable of giving them taking into account the fiscal reality of Puerto Rico,” Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said in a statement issued in Spanish Thursday evening. “Therefore we are working hard to develop a budget that will allow us to focus resources on student needs and improve the quality of teaching.” In early February, Keleher and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló introduced a sweeping education reform plan that called for closing several hundred schools over the next several years and introducing charter schools to the island. The governor estimates the plan will help save $466 million per year by 2022, according to figures in his most recent fiscal plan meant to address the island’s staggering $120 billion in outstanding debts and obligations. Those figures do not take into account the estimated $95 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Maria. …

6 Months After Maria, Puerto Ricans Face a New Threat—Education Reform
Source: Yarimar Bonilla, Rima Brusi and Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, The Nation, March 21, 2018
 
Six months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans are understandably frustrated with their government officials. One might expect discontent to center around the head of the power company who oversaw months of blackouts or the governor who awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in private contracts with little or no oversight. But instead it is the secretary of the department of education, Philadelphia-native Julia Keleher, who has become the focus of people’s anger. In the past few weeks, Puerto Ricans have been calling for her resignation, making her the object of a viral hashtag campaign, #JuliaGoHome. On Monday, the school system was paralyzed by a strike as thousands of teachers protested the education-reform bill her office has spearheaded. …


Puerto Rico And Its Teachers’ Unions Clash Over Proposed Charter Schools
Source: Adrian Florido, NPR, March 2, 2018
 
Teachers’ unions in Puerto Rico have responded to the government’s proposed overhaul with protest, anger and derision. Since Gov. Ricardo Rossello presented it to the legislature last month, critics have said he and Keleher are using the damage that Hurricane Maria inflicted on the island and its schools as justification to push privatization, much like the governor recently announced his intention to sell off Puerto Rico’s publicly owned electric grid. Speaking at a recent protest outside the Department of Education, Mercedes Martinez, president of the Puerto Rico Teachers’ Federation, likened the reform proposal to a corporate overhaul. “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,” she said. The teachers’ unions tick off a litany of concerns. They say that charter schools, freed from many of the rules that govern traditional public schools, will divert funding from those schools while being free to pay teachers less, eliminate benefits, and kick out under-performing students. …

Why Puerto Rico Is Pushing to Privatize Its Schools
Source: Mimi Kirk, City Lab, February 27, 2018
 
Faced with a dire situation, Puerto Rico’s leaders are using post-storm recovery as an opportunity to dramatically overhaul the territory’s education system. Governor Ricardo Rosselló recently announced that more than 300 public schools out of 1,100 will close, and he outlined changes he wants to make to the system, including instituting charter schools and using private school vouchers—similar to the practices touted by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. This might sound a little familiar: After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans also embarked on a major educational revamp and made the majority of its public schools into charters—a move that remains controversial. Today, more than 90 percent of the city’s students attend charter schools. But the situation in Puerto Rico actually has its roots in the 1990s, when the island’s conservative leaders began to promote private schools and (unsuccessfully) pushed for vouchers. …

Betsy Devos is helping Puerto Rico re-imagine its public school system. That has people deeply worried.
Source: Rachel M. Cohen, The Intercept, February 22, 2018
 
Puerto Rico, in the midst of the chaos and instability following Hurricane Maria, is moving quickly forward with plans to institute a wide swath of education reforms, with the help of the aggressively ideological federal education department, helmed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Puerto Rico’s governor and education secretary have expressed openness to the concerns raised by parents, teachers and community members, and stress they are not looking to implement an extreme version of privatization. Yet at the same time, they have stoked fears by pushing forward a notably vague charter law that does little to address what people are most worried about. This “trust us” mentality has not been helped by the engagement of DeVos, nor by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s recent visit to a notorious charter chain in Philadelphia last week — a prime example of the kind of low-performing, fiscally reckless charter that school advocates warn about. …

Puerto Rico’s gov seeks charter schools, raises for teachers
Source: Danica Coto, Associated Press, February 5, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s governor announced Monday that he will push to create charter schools and vouchers and give all public school teachers their first raise in a decade as part of a plan to transform the U.S. territory’s education system.  Gov. Ricardo Rossello said he will submit proposed legislation Tuesday that also would strengthen vocational schools, allow parents to have more freedom in choosing a child’s school and create an island-wide bilingual model that prioritizes subjects including math and science. … Rossello said his new public policy aims to decentralize the Department of Education in part to increase accountability and ensure that 70 percent of the budget reaches schools. In addition to implementing charter schools, he said the educational voucher program will start in the 2019-2020 school year. Rossello’s party has the majority in both the island’s House and Senate, and several legislators said they would support his proposal. But critics called the plan a first step in privatizing the education system just days after Rossello announced he aims to privatize Puerto Rico’s power company. …