Archives for category: Puerto Rico


Samuel Abrams, Director of the Centerfor the Study of Privatization at Teachers College, Columbia University, reports here about the introduction of charter schools and vouchers on the Island after the hurricane Maria. 

Abrams explains why the charter industry will not be able to turn Puerto Rico into New Orleans.

Unlike Hurricane Katina, many schools in PR were not destroyed. Unlike Nola, there remains an intact teachers’ union to fight against complete privatization. In New Orleans, all the teachers were fired and the Union was crushed.

He writes:

“The island’s Education Reform Act, approved in March 2018 in the wake of Hurricane María, which wrought havoc the previous September, introduced charter schools as well as vouchers, with the stipulation that no more than 10 percent of schools could be charter schools and no more than 3 percent of students could attend private or non-district public schools with the use of vouchers.

“In the first year following the Education Reform Act, one charter school opened: Vimenti, an elementary school in San Juan operated by the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico.

“According to an article published by Noticel,Vimenti started in August 2018 with a kindergarten and first grade, enrolling 58 students in total–31 of whom come from the neighborhood, 27 of whom come from nearby, and 13 of whom are classified for special education. The plan is to add one grade per year as students progress through school.

“Supplementary funding for Vimenti, reported Noticel, comes from the Colibri Foundation, which donated $1 million, and the singer Marc Anthony, who gave $500,000.

“In the hearings last week, the Department of Education considered proposals for four more charter schools in San Juan, five in Humacao, one in Bayamón, three in Caguas, six in Ponce, two in Arecibo, and nine in Mayaguez.

“In contrast to Vimenti, these schools would not be new schools built one grade at a time but, rather, conversions from traditional schools to charter schools.

“According to a school administrator with direct knowledge of the hearing process, it is expected that at least 13 of the proposed conversions will be approved for the 2019-2020 year while the remaining 17 will be approved for the 2020-2021 year.

“For charter schools, the baseline for determining the 10 percent was the number of schools as of August 15, 2018, which means that if additional public schools across the island are closed, the proportion of charter schools could in time  exceed 10 percent. The government of Puerto Rico closed nearly 25 percent of the island’s schools following Hurricane María. Before the storm, there were 1,110 schools. A year later, according to a report by Education Week, there were 847.

“Whether 14 schools or 31 in 2019-2020, the number of charter schools in Puerto Rico would mark striking growth.  By comparison, Minnesota, the state that introduced charter schools with legislation in 1991, opened one charter school in 1992 and six more in 1993. By 2017, there were 164 charter schools across the state, enrolling 6.5 percent of the state’s public school students.”

Ironically, Abrams points out, Puerto Rico already has a choice sector within the public system.

“Although charter schools and vouchers are new to Puerto Rico, the concept of alternative forms of public school management is not new. The island’s Instituto Nueva Escuela (INE), in fact, sets the international standard for running neighborhood public Montessori schools.

“INE, celebrated in a recent story published by El Nuevo Dia, comprises 44 schools across the island enrolling 14,600 students. Like conventional neighborhood public schools, schools in the INE network require no application. Unlike conventional neighborhood public schools, the schools in this network all employ the Montessori child-centered curriculum and get significant supplementary funding from foundations.

“According to Ana María García, the founder and director of INE, the network spends 10 percent more per pupil–or $6,600 compared to $6,000.

“García was pressured by the Department of Education, she said in an interview in San Juan last week, to transform INE into a charter network, but she refused, contending that fundamental to INE was the idea that the network’s schools be open to all students in the neighborhood, without any application process. García prevailed.

“In recognition of García’s work, as El Nuevo Dia reported in a separate story, the American Montessori Society will be presenting García with its highest honor, its Living Legacy Award, at its annual meeting in March. “

So, now the privatization begins: First, a swallow. Eventually, the crows, the buzzards, and the vultures. Watch for KIPP, Achievement First, Academica, Imagine, and the other corporate chains to get into line to open schools in P.R. As we now know, no experience is needed to open and run a school. Anyone can do it, and anyone can teach. New worlds to conquer.

Politico reports today:

AFTER COURT VICTORY, PUERTO RICO ANNOUNCES FIRST CHARTER SCHOOLS: Government officials in Puerto Rico announced Sunday the opening of the territory’s first charter school, just days after a victory in court that sanctioned Puerto Rico’s new school choice law.

— The Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico on Aug. 20 will open the Vimenti School — a K-5 school with 58 students. The school will be in the capital city of San Juan and is approved to enroll 190 students by its fifth year. The emphasis will be on social and emotional learning, and students will be educated in both Spanish and English.

— “There is much left to do to implement the plan for education reform, but this is an important step. Doing more of the same is not an option for this administration,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said during a press conference, joined by Keleher.

— Officials also announced that a second nonprofit, Caras de las Américas, was also approved to operate a charter school. The organization will have a year to plan for the new school, which is expected to enroll 315 students. Keleher said that other nonprofits and local government agencies are being vetted as potential charter school operators for the 2019-2020 school year. Among those are LEAP Social Enterprise, Techno Innovators and Centro para PR.

— The announcement comes days after the Tribunal Supremo of Puerto Rico, the territory’s highest court, overturned a July decision from a lower court that found privately run charter schools and private school vouchers unconstitutional and potentially harmful to Puerto Rico’s traditional public schools.

— In a victory for Rosselló and Keleher, the justices found that charter schools are constitutional because the state “exerts control and ample power over the implementation and administration of these schools, which are free, nonsectarian … and open to the community.” As for vouchers, they wrote that even when private schools stand to benefit from the funding, it is “not to a degree that would lead to the subsidizing of private education in violation of our constitution.” More on that from your host here.

— Meanwhile, traditional public schools on the island bring students back for the new school year today. Keleher, who has touted an overhaul of the traditional public education system there, is welcoming students after the closure of dozens of public schools. “Change is happening here,” she told POLITICO. “Change creates uncertainty and anxiety, but this is a system that has been stagnant for over a decade.”

— But the teachers union has said it anticipates mayhem. School closures, a new system for online student registrations and the shuffle of teachers from closed schools could result in overcrowded classrooms and schools short on the necessary staff, spokeswoman Grichelle Toledo told POLITICO. Toledo said the union has asked the territory’s commission for civil rights to serve as an observer over the process.

To read the links, open Politico link.

Disaster capitalism strikes again! A victory for rapacious billionaires, Betsy DeVos, and DFER. Instead of putting the PR economy on a path to recovery, the disaster capitalists will give them charters and vouchers.

The following is a jubilant press release from the rightwing group “Center for Education Reform,” which despises public schools:


(202) 750-0016 |

PR Supreme Court Confirms: Education Opportunity Constitutional

[Washington, D.C., August 10, 2018—] Students and families of Puerto Rico were given a major victory today when the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ruled that new education opportunities are constitutional and dismissed the island’s teachers’ union’s challenge to the new education reform law enacted on March 29, 2018, which provided for a path for charter schools and scholarships for students to attend private schools.

“Today’s decision paves the way for what has become an unprecedented island-wide coalition to drive educational excellence, comprising leaders in government, business, higher education, ed tech, and civic groups like the Boys & Girls Club,” said Jeanne Allen, Founder and CEO, Center for Education Reform. “As we have seen throughout the US, such efforts produce exceptional results and provide new and meaningful pathways for children trapped in failing schools,” Allen added.

Math proficiency for Puerto Rico stands at 33%, while only 10% of students in grades 7, 8 and 11 were able to pass standardized tests last year. Although it’s their native language, only 49 percent of students achieved proficiency in Spanish last year. Knowing the value of educational freedom, parents began to exit the state for Florida and beyond even before Hurricane Maria. The Education Secretary Julia Kelleher moved to close schools based on these migrations and failing education and the new law was a bi-partisan response to institute more accountability and inevitably more options for students and families, but it was in jeopardy when the unions filed suit. The teachers unions also were pushed to strike by the US head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, whose now infamous conversation on an Amtrak train plotting the strike was widely reported.

The Supreme Court overruled a highly political ruling by a Superior Court Judge who claimed that the Puerto Rico Education Reform act violates the territory’s Constitution.
“We knew after the first ruling against educational options that the Superior Court’s decision had no grounding in constitutional law,” said Allen, “as precedents have shown time and time again. We congratulate the leaders of Puerto Rico and hope this sends a signal to the establishment that nothing can stand in the way of educational achievement.”

Remember that Arne Duncan said that Hurricane Katrina was “the best thing that ever happened to New Orleans” because it made it possible to wipe out public schools, fire all the teachers, eliminate the union, and replace them all with charter school?

Well, the Secretary of Education Julia Kelleher in Puerto Rico is grateful for the opportunity that Hurricane Maria has given her to do the same to the public schools there.

Forget the deaths of at least 4,000 people. Think of charter schools and vouchers!

Here she is in an interview.

She’s in the middle of closing 264 schools and working with Betsy Devos on vouchers.

Video of her here:

Full text from full video:

David Begnaud 24:07
And I’ll preface the question with this. When I first met Miss Keleher, her at the convention center we were sitting off in a cornerdidn’t actually know who she was, until about 10 minutes before I found out and I thought, Oh, well, she’d be a good person to talk to how are the schools to doing and this was in like, the first few days after the storm. And we sat down and you said to me, I’ll never forget “hurricane Maria Maybe the best thing that’s happened to this island” Do you still feel that way

Julia Keleher 24:37
I think the fact that I have $500 million to improve the quality of a kids academic experience and learning environment, I think that I have four times as much money as I would have to be able to fix the physical plant in which they go to school plus, plus the option to access more, I think that’s a tremendous opportunity that no one wanted the storm, but I’m I’m not going to miss spend, pardon the pun, the the opportunity that I have to, to to redirect these things that would have never been available to Puerto Rico, I would have been short $300 million, I wouldn’t be able to do the things that we’re going to be able to do for teachers and for kids.

From Politico Morning Education:

PUERTO RICO SCHOOL CLOSURES DEBATE HEATS UP: School closures will move ahead in Puerto Rico as tensions between the territory’s Education Department and teachers union escalate. Earlier this week, the Tribunal Supremo of Puerto Rico ruled that a plan to close dozens of schools in Puerto Rico does not “directly and substantially interfere with the right to an education,” el Vocero de Puerto Rico reports.

— Officials there celebrated the victory, even as teachers unions and civil rights advocates continue to oppose the plan. The Puerto Rican civil rights commission this week called for a one-year moratorium on the closures, calling the process “disorganized” and “directionless,” according to El Nuevo Dia. Education Secretary Julia Keleher issued a statement in response, saying that “the process was based on data … and responded to the urgent need to address the consistent decline in school enrollment.”

— The ruling only exacerbated tensions between Keleher and the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the largest teachers union in the island. During a press conference earlier this week, union President Aida Díaz decried the ruling as harmful to displaced students and teachers, and called Keleher “machiavellian.”

Would Puerto Rico be a nice destination for recruits from TFA? Especially if they don’t have to be there for the hot summer months.

Readers of this blog got the scoop a few days ago in the comment section, as reported by Christine Langhoff. But she did not have the English translation.

Here it is in Politico:

NO GO FOR PRIVATELY RUN CHARTERS, VOUCHERS IN PUERTO RICO: Key elements of the Puerto Rican government’s push to reform education through school choice suffered a blow in court over the weekend — one that leaders say they plan to appeal.

— Tribunal de Primera Instancia Judge Iris Cancio González ruled that privately run charter schools and publicly funded vouchers used in private schools run afoul of the Puerto Rican constitution, which says public funds should only sustain government-run schools. Cancio González wrote that even when regulated, charter schools more closely resemble “a private education system funded by the government, than the public schools we know today.”

— “Their framework creates a financing system that supports private institutions, which the government simply licenses with limited supervision,” Cancio González wrote. She added that the private donations charter schools are allowed to receive could influence their objectives and practice, and agreed with teachers union arguments that charter schools could “dilute” the funding that goes to traditional public schools.

— The ruling makes an exception for charter schools run by local governments and public universities.

— The challenge was brought by Puerto Rico’s largest teachers union in a lawsuit filed in April. The union has for months fought the reform plan pushed by Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, arguing that charter schools and vouchers are a threat to the island’s public schools. “We’ve always said, both charters and vouchers are unconstitutional,” Aida Díaz, president of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, said in a statement . “Justice has been served for our children and their right to a public education. We continue to fight for them and for our teachers.”

— Ramón Rosario Cortés, Puerto Rico’s secretary of public affairs and public policy, said in a statement that “great changes usually attract resistance” and that the government plans to appeal the ruling.

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.

The link in this post will take you to a discussion that took place in Puerto Rico about the introduction of “no excuses” charter schools. The government has announced that it is closing and privatizing hundreds of public schools. The embedded post was translated from Spanish to English. Sarah Cohodes, a professor at Teachers College in New York, advocates for such charters because of their strict discipline, which she admires. Critics object to such charters because of the strict discipline.

You can read the report here.

My own view, for what it is worth, is that “no excuses” charters were created for poor children and children of color. They are designed to civilize children. They are the educational equivalent of neocolonialism.


Perhaps it is no surprise that the privatization vultures descended on Puerto Rico after the devastation of a Hurricane Maria. What is surprising is that the privatization movement has been led by a non-local from Philadelphia.  That city has experimented with privatization of its schools since the Paul Vallas regime (2002-2005), and the results have devastated the public schools.

The Nation reports:

“Six months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans are understandably frustrated with their government officials. One might expect discontent to center around the head of the power company who oversaw months of blackouts or the governor who awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in private contracts with little or no oversight. But instead it is the secretary of the department of education, Philadelphia-native Julia Keleher, who has become the focus of people’s anger. In the past few weeks, Puerto Ricans have been calling for her resignation, making her the object of a viral hashtag campaign, #JuliaGoHome. On Monday, the school system was paralyzed by a strike as thousands of teachers protested the education-reform bill her office has spearheaded.

“For observers from the 50 states, it might come as a surprise that Puerto Rico’s secretary of education hails from Philadelphia. Indeed, it is the first time a non–Puerto Rican has held the job since the colonial appointees in the period after the US took possession of the island in 1898. But in the four years leading up to her appointment, Keleher’s education consultancy firm, Keleher & Associates, had been awarded almost $1 million in contracts to “design and implement education reform initiatives” in Puerto Rico. The results of those efforts were never described to the public, but when Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares tapped Keleher for the position in January 2017, the selection was initially met with some guarded optimism. Some hoped that a non–Puerto Rican would be able to rise above local politics, end corruption, and lead the agency with professionalism and expertise.

“From the beginning, many critics expressed concerns about her sizable salary, which at $250,000 is more than 10 times the average salary of a teacher in Puerto Rico. In an island beset by an unpayable debt and austerity measures, Keleher has managed to secure an income that is more than double that of her predecessors and over three times that of Rosselló, the governor that appointed her. It’s even 25 percent greater than that of Betsy DeVos, the secretary of the US Department of Education, and larger than that of 95 percent of education leaders around the world.

“As secretary, her salary is capped by law, so in order for Keleher to receive this level of compensation, she was given additional contracts that established her as an adviser to her own agency. These contracts were facilitated through the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF), the agency created in 2016 to manage the island’s fiscal crisis and implement austerity measures. As with other controversial appointments, such as that of the fiscal-board director Natalie Jaresko, the exorbitant salaries are rationalized as necessary to recruit the kind of talent needed to resolve the island’s financial crisis.

“Those who supported Keleher’s confirmation responded to criticisms over her eye-popping salary by insisting that she had the kind of “world-class” skills and credentials that Puerto Rico’s education system sorely needed. She was hailed as a gifted technocrat and an expert in the use of data-driven, evidence-based practices and performance metrics. She was also described as someone who, precisely by virtue of not being from the island, would be immune the kind of partisan politics that corrupted the work of previous secretaries and the performance of the government as a whole. That appears not to be the case, with Puerto Rico’s Civil Rights Commission already investigating her office for ethics violations and political favoritism.

“As it turns out, her policy and practice reforms have also been anything but transparent, and the “data” of her “data-driven” rationale has not been made widely available. One of her very first moves, for example, was to shutter more than 150 schools. But she never explained how she chose the schools that would be closed beyond a vague reference to “loss of students” due to migration.”

Do you think Julia should go home?



First it was New Orleans, its public schools crippled by a devastating hurricane, which was used to sweep away public education. Now, it is Puerto Rico, crushed by a powerful hurricane, with most of the island left by the federal government without access to electricity or clean water.

Now Puerto Rico will abandon public education and turn its students over to private operators and religious schools. Let someone else run the schools. The government prefers to abandon them.

Steven Singer writes a cogent analysis of the death of public education in Puerto Rico.

“More than five months since a devastating hurricane hit the island’s shores, some 270 schools are still without power.

“Roughly 25,000 students are leaving with that number expected to swell to 54,000 in four years. And that’s after an 11-year recession already sent 78,000 students seeking refuge elsewhere.

“So what do you do to stop the flow of refugees fleeing the island? What do you do to fix your storm damaged schools? What do you do to ensure all your precious children are safe and have the opportunity to learn?

“If you’re Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello, you sell off your entire system of public education.

“After an economic history of being pillaged and raped by corporate vultures from the mainland, Rossello is suggesting the U.S. Territory offer itself for another round of abuse.

“He wants to close 300 more schools and change the majority of those remaining into charter and voucher schools.

“That means no elected school boards.

“That means no public meetings determining how these schools are run.

“It means no transparency in terms of how the money is spent.

“It means public funding can become private profit.

“And it means fewer choices for children who will have to apply at schools all over the island and hope one accepts them. Unlike public schools, charter and voucher schools pick and choose whom to enroll.

“Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with serving the needs of children. It is about selling off public property because it belongs to poor, brown people.”