Puerto Rico teachers union seeks to stop charter schools
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A Puerto Rico teachers union filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the island’s education department seeking to stop the U.S. territory from creating charter schools and offering private school vouchers as part of an overhaul of the education system.
The lawsuit filed by the Association of Puerto Rican Teachers, which represents some 30,000 teachers, argues that it is unconstitutional to use public funds or property for private schools.
“To say charters are public schools when they are going to be administered, directed and controlled by private hands is clearly an illegal and unconstitutional contradiction,” union president Aida Diaz said.
Department of Education spokeswoman Yolanda Rosaly said the agency had no immediate comment.
Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario said in a statement that the government will fight the lawsuit and is moving ahead with the education overhaul targeting Puerto Rico’s 1,110 public schools that serve 319,000 students.
“We were sure we would have opposition from certain sectors who resist these changes we so badly need,” he said.
The lawsuit was filed less than a week after Gov. Ricardo Rossello signed a bill to implement a charter schools pilot program in 10 percent of public schools and offer private school vouchers to 3 percent of students starting in 2019-2020.
The overhaul will attempt to restructure an education department that has long struggled with bureaucracy and seen its resources dwindle amid an 11-year-old recession. The legislation signed Thursday aims to decentralize the agency, ensure that 70 percent of its budget reaches schools and give teachers their first raise in a decade starting next year.
The U.S. territory’s government also plans to close some 300 schools starting next year.
Puerto Rico has seen its enrollment drop by 78,000 students in the past four years amid the economic crisis, and officials expect to lose 54,000 more students in the next four years. More than 25,000 students have left since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September.