Yesterday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares announced a complete overhaul of the Puerto Rico´s public education system that, among other things, would give way to the so-called charter schools and bet on the decentralization of administration, the plan would grant a salary increase for teachers and create a system of educational vouchers.
In a firm tone, Rosselló Nevares addressed the nation and describe "the pillars" of his educational reform, a week and a half after announcing the privatization of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
"Today (yesterday) we start a profound transformation of education, which we aspire to be a model of excellence for the world, always putting our children first," said the Governor, recalling a phrase that became popular during the administration of his father Pedro Rosselló, administration.
Rosselló Nevares proposed the implementation of the Alliance Schools, as charter schools will be known. This is a model in which private entities -such as non-profit organizations, corporations or municipalities- take over the administration of public schools.
“The objective of this will be to create schools of excellence, allowing their administration by nonprofit organizations, municipalities, and academia, among others,” said the governor. "These will continue to be State schools and will be subject to the same standards of evaluation and accountability,” he expressed, however, he did not give details of what the evaluation will be like.
Nowadays, states such as Ohio, North Carolina and Louisiana are debating about the effectiveness of charter schools.
For example, in Louisiana, which is one of the models the Island tries to follow, all public schools in the city of New Orleans were converted into charters after Hurricane Katrina, but did not reach the expected academic achievement.
On the contrary, education and civic organizations have denounced segregation in the education system and that the poorest or most vulnerable did not have the same access to high quality educational opportunities.
Another pillar of the transformation proposed by Rosselló Nevares is the Educational Vouchers Program and the Free Selection of Schools, so that parents can -with public funds- decide where their children are educated.
Rosselló Nevares´ father attempted to implement this program. But, in 1999, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional because public funds were used for private purposes.
The Governor pointed out that the education reform promotes the creation of local educational agencies (LEAs), which are structures with fiscal and administrative autonomy that have greater contact with schools. According to Rosselló this will result in “reducing bureaucracy and increasing accountability”.
In line with the proposals of the revised Fiscal Plan that reduces the number of public schools from 1,110 to 805, Rosselló's proposals are aimed at allocating more funds for each student ($ 6,500) in the system.
Minutes after Rosselló Nevares's address, the Board announced that the central government Fiscal Plan violates the federal PROMESA law, so it is imperative to modify its projections and provide specific data to support it.
Several of the governor's core proposals depend on actions that have not been completed yet. Among them, the salary increase of $ 1,500 for each teacher relies on the savings that would be achieved with the transformation of the Department of Education, the drop in school enrollment and school closures. All these measures are included in the revised Fiscal Plan.
Rossello Nevares also said that “vocational, alternative, and technical education will be strengthened”.
Immediately, the president of the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, Aida Díaz, questioned the Governor's proposals.
"This is the rescue of all the initiatives ruled out by previous governments because it was proved that they did not work and they were not the right path. It is adopting everything that has proven to be useless in the United States. You have a Governor who does not understand how to get this Puerto Rico out of where it is and is proposing a policy that has not worked elsewhere," she said.
However, Rosselló's plan was supported by members of the legislative majority.
The president of the Senate Committee on Education, Abel Nazario, pointed out that the educational voucher that would be awarded would be approximately $ 6,500 per student. He acknowledged that the governor's proposal on charter schools is similar to the one submitted in the past by popular senator Eduardo Bhatia.
Nazario acknowledged that the proposals, particularly the Educational Vouchers Program, could be challenged in Court.
"They may go to Court, but there is jurisdiction that has already been raised in the United States, by the Supreme Court, which extends that opportunity. (The obstacle) is in the interpretation. If it goes to Court, then it will be reinterpreted," said the senator, who along with the president of the House Commission on Special Education and Child Development, Rafael "June" Rivera Ortega, was at La Fortaleza while the governor was addressing the nation for the sixth time in only one year in office.