Jeff Bryant wrote a must-read overview of the disastrous effort to privatize the public schools in Puerto Rico (the New Orleans of the Caribbean?), and the role of teachers in ousting the government.

He writes:

Puerto Rico’s school teachers have been a constant nemesis to the Rosselló regime, and the island’s largest teachers’ union, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), united with other labor unions on the island to organize the general strike. Randi Weingarten, the leader of the American Federation of Teachers, which AMPR is an affiliate of, joined in the calls for Rosselló’s resignation.

The teachers’ disagreements with Governor Rosselló started long before the release of the insulting texts.

“People in Puerto Rico felt betrayed by the governor,” says Myrna Ortiz-Castillo in a phone conversation. Ortiz-Castillo is a third-grade teacher and serves as finance secretary at the AMPR local in Bayamon. She insists, “He is supposed to be the person who takes care of the people. Instead he took care of his friends.”

One of the “friends” Ortiz-Castillo is referring to is the charter school industry. During his tenure, Rosselló pushed through the first law allowing charter schools on the island, and after the bill passed, he continued to press for opening more charters. Now it seems his ousting, and the legacy of corruption he leaves behind, will likely damage prospects for the charter industry in Puerto Rico for some time.

‘Friends’ of Charters Take Charge

Much of the teachers’ disillusion with Rosselló goes back at least to December 2016 when then Governor-elect Rosselló appointed Julia Keleher to be the Puerto Rico secretary of education.

Keleher, a native of Philadelphia who barely speaks Spanish, was effectively already on the government payroll, as her firm Keleher & Associates had been awarded almost $1 million in contracts to consult on the island’s education system. Her outsized salary—$250,000 to oversee a system where the average teacher pay is only $27,000—also created controversy.

Shortly after taking office, Keleher pushed for a plan to close nearly 200 public schools across the island, which would have led to thousands of teachers losing their jobs. She also pledged to decentralize the school system and delegate school services, terms often used to introduce the idea of charter schools and other forms of public-private education partnerships.

Keleher’s proposals drew immediate pushback from multiple political factions on the island, but barely nine months into her tenure, she got the perfect opportunity to turn her proposals into policies when Hurricane Maria slammed the island. The storm inflicted $142 million in damages to schools, and 40 days after the storm, only 109 of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 schools had reopened.

Keleher repeatedly referred to the catastrophe as an “opportunity.”

A New Orleans-Style Agenda

While Keleher worked the policy channels to introduce charter schools to the island, teachers were in communities delivering aid and comfort.

Ortiz-Castillo recalls being a first-line responder to the widespread destruction. In her phone call to me, she describes traveling to devastated communities as part of the union’s outreach effort to use its extensive membership network to identify where parents and their children were struggling and advise where to direct supplies, food, and drinking water. Many schools became, essentially, relief centers.

Keleher seemed to have other priorities.

As Education Week’s correspondent on the ground in Puerto Rico reported, she was “diving deep into the lessons of loss and opportunity in previous natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005.”