Puerto Rico is part of the United States. You would not know that if you paid attention to the neglect of the Island’s needs since Hurricane Maria. Just as the privateers took advantage of Hurricane Katrina to wipe out public schools in New Orleans, they are now moving swiftly to replace public schools in Puerto Rico with charter schools and vouchers. The privatizers are using their familiar tactics of disruption and chaos to shatter communities and displace students and families. The rationale is unexplained.

The austerity measures imposed on the residents have led to violent clashes and tear-gassing of resistors. 

Consider the following information, compiled by the AFT:

Consider the following:

Puerto Rico School Closings: Background

On April 5, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher announced that Puerto Rico would be shuttering 283 schools by September 2018. Those closings would affect nearly 60,000 students and 6,000 teachers and could cause thousands of educators to leave their jobs. This would have a devastating impact on families and communities in Puerto Rico as the island works to recover and grow. Economists have been arguing that the single most important group to keep on the island to stabilize the economic outlook of Puerto Rico are families whose plans for returning or reestablishing normalcy are thrown into chaos.

A small group in the Puerto Rico Education Department proposed the school closing with no input from stakeholders, no visits to schools and using an database that was never shared with the public.

The education secretary for Puerto Rico has admitted that at no time did they do an analysis of any of the school being closed or the impact on students at the closed schools.

The latest round of closings comes less than a year after Puerto Rico closed 167 schools, bringing the total number of schools closed within one year to 450. This represents more than a third of its public schools, though the island’s population has decreased by only 9 percent over the past seven years.

The latest closings also come on the heels of an earlier, smaller round of school closings that occurred due to population loss. Between 2010 and 2015, Puerto Rico closed another 150 public schools in order to deal with population loss.

In addition to the school closings, the U.S. Secretaryof Education Betsy DeVos has been working with Puerto Rico closely to pass legislation to introduce charter schools and vouchers in Puerto Rico. The bill was drafted by a team from Betsy DeVos’s U.S. Education Department, with very little or no input from stakeholders in Puerto Rico.

The closure of schools was built on misleading information.

Initially the Puerto Rican government promised cost savings from closing schools.

o The Government of Puerto Rico has been unable to sell any previously closed schools and is leasing 50 schools out of more than 300 available schools for $1 annually.

o The Governor subsequently acknowledged that there is very little cost savings from closing schools.

o The Governor’s latest statement tracks with studies about school closing in other states that found like one from Pew research that found municipalities get a fraction of the savings they budget for, when they close schools.

o Meanwhile the government just passed voucher and charter school legislation written by DeVos that would cost the Puerto Rico up to $400 million a year.

o As the plan to close schools, the fiscal plan approved by the fiscal oversight board includes more than $7 billion in debt service over five years to vulture funds at the expense of schools and recovery.

The Puerto Rico Secretary of Education had previously argued that school closing were driven by the fiscal board required it. In a recent interview with Telemundo, Jose Carrion, Chairman of the Fiscal Control Board, said the Fiscal Board did not require the closing of schools.

There’s not a transparent and coherent process for why schools are being closed. Various arguments have been made that are sometimes at odds with each other.

On Friday April 20th, the Department of Education indicated that it had not conducted an updated analysis of which schools were being closed, their impact on the education of kids in the schools or whether receiving schools had the resources to help the incoming kids. The Department also indicated that despite protests from mayors, parents and teachers that the list of 283 would not change under any circumstance.

o On Saturday April 21st, The Department of Education sent out a press release that they would make changes to the number of schools being closed.

o Two days later the education department removed six schools from the list and added three new schools to the list.

The schools on the closure list were not selected using an understandable and transparent process. In fact, a quick review of the latest school performance and demographic data shows a number of troubling facts. It is critical that education officials explain how these schools were selected.

Of the 50 poorest schools (at least 95 percent poverty), 21 are slated to close.

Of the 50 least poor schools (56 percent poverty or less), all are expected to remain open.

Among the 50 schools with the lowest proficiency (9 percent proficient or less), 11 schools are slated for closure.

Among the 50 schools with the highest proficiency (90 percent proficient or better), 22 schools are slated for closure.

58 of the 283 schools scheduled to be closed are rated good or excellent by the Department of education

40 percent of the children in the schools slated to closed are special needs students, including children with autism.

There was no consultation with teachers, parents and community leaders before the school closure list was finalized.

There was no transparency to the school closure process other than what we read in the press.
There is real human and economic impact to the school closures that has not been considered. No one has performed an economic impact on school closure in Puerto Rico.

A department of education offical visited a recently built modern school with air conditioning and computer labs slated for closing and told teachers that the school would be perfect for a charter school operator.

The Secretary of Education went on the record to confirm that she is closing a Montessori school because administrators refused to allow the school to become a charter.

Local mayors find the school closings so disruptive that they’ve petitioned the government to take over operations of the schools.

In Lares a school closing will impact four communities in the surrounding area forcing students to commute for an extra hour to 2 hours a day.

Mercedes is a beloved neighborhood school in San Juan where teachers have invested hundreds of dollars for supplies and the school where they are supposed to go has a lower rating and is located in a violent area.

Manuel Caves is a school slated for closing that had a waiting list last year.

In Arecibo, the only bilingual school is being closed.
A school closing in Barceloneta offers pre-vocational courses, and there is no indication that the new school will continue the program.

A school closing in Bayamon, Papa Juan XXIII High School, specializes in mathematics and science. It has an enrollment of 346, and its honor roll is made up of 320 students. These students receive multiple math, science and English classes during the year. Last year, five students in grade 11 went directly to college.

A school being closed in Humacao, Su Luciano Rios, won a robotics championship in 2017.

A school that specializes in baseball is slated to close in Comerío. Keleher argued that the closing was due to poor conditions, but reporters found the school to be in great physical conditions, with the municipality providing maintenance services for the school.

There are dozens of receiving schools that are too far from the closing school. Teachers feel that some receiving schools are too dangerous for students.
In multiple instances, receiving schools have facility problems that can’t accommodate incoming students, or problems with bathrooms or clean water.

All in all, the department of education under Keleher has made no effort to reach out to and work with teachers and parents about what closing their school would mean for students. There are no indications that any thought has been put into the logistics of disrupting the lives of 60,000 students by talking to the adult guardians or teachers of these kids.

New stories emerge daily about communities and schools impacted because there has been no analysis. The list above is just a sample of problems.