School vouchers bill will be excluded from the education reform bill submitted by Governor Ricardo Rosselló and will be addressed in an alternative bill to be worked on by the Senate Commission on Education - headed by Abel Nazario-.
Nazario explained that they seek to create a legislation strong enough to be developed and be part of the new public education model.
"Before March 7 we will work on the draft that will go along the original bill ... we are going work according to the Constitution and we will set the parameters to ensure that the governor has a proper bill," said Nazario.
The legal adviser of the Department of Education, Rubén Huertas, said that the agency will not be opposed to the program being dealt with in an independent measure.
"The decision on how to legislate falls on the Legislature. The education reform should contain all its components, but if all of them are included, the Department of Education would not oppose to how it is legislated," said Huertas.
In 1994 Pedro Rosselló administration attempted to integrate educational vouchers - which constitute a kind of scholarship granted to students of the public system who decide to continue studying in the private system - but the proposal was defeated in the Supreme Court.
Nazario’s comments were done during a hearing of the Senate Commission on Education and University Reform attended by the Secretary of Justice, Wanda Vázquez; the president of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Darrel F. Hillman; and representatives of the 11 campuses of the system.
In addition to concerns about the unconstitutionality attributed to the granting of educational vouchers, according to existing jurisprudence, Nazario is interested in defining the parameters through which the benefit will be granted, including the amount of vouchers to be awarded, as well as to whom the program should benefit.
Vazquez, for his part, favored the implementation of the program and argued that this is not an unconstitutional measure, since it does not violate the support clause of the Puerto Rican Constitution.
He assured that the bill meets the necessary parameters so that it is constitutional. These are: that it does not support or is associated to any religion or belief, that it does not inhibit or favor a particular religion and that there is no public involvement in those private schools that receive the students.
"The bill in question is a proposal of a neutral nature, it is not advancing or promoting a system of religious education," said Vázquez.
He maintained that it complies with Section 5, Article II of the Constitution of Puerto Rico, which states that "no public property or public funds shall be used for the support of schools or educational institutions other than those of the state", since the benefit is directed to the student and not to support the private academic system.
Hillman, as well as the rectors or representatives of the 11 campuses of the system, favored the charter school model included in the project.
Each of the speakers said that they have analyzed which schools near the campuses they could manage through the charter model.
He denied that the proposal is to balance the budget of the University, as the president of the Teachers Association, Aida Diaz, denounced.
"This is a great opportunity to show the island that we can take these schools to another level," he said.
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