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Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares addressed the nation this afternoon and announced a complete overhaul of Puerto Rico's public education system. (EFE / Michael Reynolds)
Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares addressed the nation this afternoon and announced a complete overhaul of Puerto Rico's public education system. (EFE / Michael Reynolds)

Read Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares' entire address to the nation as it was offered this afternoon:

My fellow citizens:

Every child deserves equal opportunity to have an effective education, of global caliber, and that prepares them for real life. Every child, regardless of their economic condition or where they come from, must have access to that education; in a system where parents are involved and have the right to choose a high-performance school.

Over the past decades, this has not happened in Puerto Rico. Children are our present and our future. The aspiration should be just one: excellence in education in all its components. It is time to change.

A few days ago, I communicated our decision to transform the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The road towards transformation does not stop. The moment of change, to together build a new and better Puerto Rico, is now.

That is why we will transform our education system. The current educational system does not respond to what is needed to train our students to succeed in a world that’s ever more competitive and complex. We found a bureaucratic Department of Education, where there was no clarity in the administration of its budget; where money was not allocated for materials in the classroom; where the number of students in the enrollment was ignored, causing inequity in the provision of services; where there was a purely administrative educational planning strategy; and where there was no flexibility for teachers to make decisions and parents to be heard. All this produced an alarming academic deficiency and, on top of that, a reduction in the student population of over 25% since 2013.

This educational system encourages school desertion, instead of the integration of the community and the students into their school. That is unacceptable and it cannot continue. It is necessary to raise our standards. It is essential to have measurable and real results. We must do better.

We will build a complete system, in which the educational needs of everyone, including our Special Education students, will be met. In Puerto Rico we have students and teachers with extraordinary talent, intelligence, and creative capabilities. What we are lacking is a system that allows them to develop those talents and skills to their maximum potential. This is an urgent mission.

I would like to describe the main pillars of the new public policy focused on students first; and the education reform that I will submit to the legislature tomorrow.

In the first place: we will make significant administrative changes to facilitate an agile and effective Department of Education, with decentralization and regional autonomy. This begins with a new administrative structure (LEA), reducing bureaucracy and increasing accountability. The selected superintendents should be trained professionals with knowledge in administration and finance.

The topic of the budget is next: by establishing the concept of monetary allocation per student, we have clarity in the needs that must be met in the school campuses. This way we guarantee visibility in the use of money, achieving with the decentralized system that at least 70% of the budget reaches the schools.

Complying with the Fiscal Plan, which establishes a reduction in schools, a full faculty will be assigned for each school; facilitating, in addition, that the money reaches the students. We cannot accept that students and parents have to endure being without an appointed teacher. With the new school system, principals will have to be held accountable and demonstrate results; otherwise, other alternatives will be sought. We must not accept that a single school fails. It is up to all of us to work to provide our children with a high-quality education. We must do better.

Second: we will be implementing what is known as Charter Schools. The objective of this will be to create schools of excellence, allowing their administration by nonprofit organizations, municipalities, and academia, among others.

Recent studies have shown that for every $20 that the government invests in education, nonprofits can do a better job with $1. These will continue to be State schools and will be subject to the same standards of evaluation and accountability. Of course, parents will have the option of enrolling them in these schools or taking them to a different one. That is the greatchange. Options for parents and students.

This brings me to the third pillar; the Program of Educational Vouchers and Free Selection of Schools. As an alternative to promote equal access to quality education, this free selection program will be created. You will be the one who will have the power to decide where your children are educated. To achieve this, adjustments are needed in the next school semester. Therefore, the Educational Voucher Program will begin in the 2019-2020 school year.

In addition to these pillars, it is important to emphasize that the reform will have many other components and programmatic commitments: it will induce to establish a bilingual model - prioritizing science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, and research - as well as providing a new model for Special Education that integrates children, in such a way that they can have an education that prepares them for real life. This last point is important, and our commitment is that our special population have the resources and opportunities to receive a good education.

Vocational, alternative, and technical education will be strengthened, giving more options for success to our students. It is imperative that we prepare our students for emerging needs and to be the leaders of the future.

We will create mechanisms for professional growth and development so that teachers have a ladder towards progress. To demonstrate our commitment to the teaching profession, we will be establishing a salary increase for all teachers of $1,500.00 per year, beginning the next school year.

This is the first salary increase in the last 10 years. The three pillars will serve as a platform to meet these objectives. They will depend on the important collaboration of the community, parents, teachers, and nonprofit organizations, allowing for more space to create a system for the people, by the people.

We will be measuring every component of this reform with a strong and transparent oversight mechanism. You will be able to see the progress and the deficiencies. For the first time, we will have genuine accountability.

A great education equals a great life. Better schools imply a better Puerto Rico. The best legacy that we can leave for Puerto Rico is a quality education for all, where every child has the opportunity to reach their optimum potential and where parents have the power to decide where they can best educate their children.

Today we begin a profound educational transformation, which we aspire to be a model of excellence for the world, always putting our children first.

Good night.