Puerto Rico governor: Education reform ‘will happen’
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló declared Thursday that, despite an announced teachers’ demonstration, education reform “will happen.”
The Broad Front in Defense of Education (Fadep by its Spanish acronym) announced a work stoppage Monday in rejection of House Bill 1441, which was passed Tuesday and will now go to the Senate for consideration. It is rumored that public access to the Senate gallery won’t be allowed.
“Well, first of all, one respects the right to free expression. Everyone who wants to express themselves always has that right as long as done so peacefully,” the governor told the press. “Now, I urge people to remember who is affected in all this. It is the children of Puerto Rico.”
He further added: “We have carried out an open process in dialog with teachers and multiple sectors. Numerous amendments have been accepted…hundreds of amendments to this bill for the transformation of the education system, but this transformation will happen.”
Rosselló argued his position by referring to the academic performance of students in the public school system.
“I encourage teachers to reflect on that; after the hurricane [Maria], we have lost many classes,” he stressed.
“There is dissatisfaction, discontent, sadness in the teachers. Reading this bill is enough to take to the streets to defend the education of our children,” Teachers Federation President Mercedes Martínez said in a press conference.
H.B. 1441 introduced a section on educational philosophy that was not included in the measure presented by the administration. It also provides that charter schools be non-sectarian, public and free. The bill does not expressly prohibit schools from charging additional fees to students who enroll.
As for the transfer of public school teachers to charter schools, their salaries and benefits would remain intact for a two-year period, after which they could lose certain fringe benefits but their pay would not change.
According to the bill, educational vouchers for the academic year 2019-2020 will be equal to 3 percent of student enrollment but then increase to 5 percent. It was also amended to stipulate that the Education secretary would be the “authorizer” of charter schools.
As for parents’ responsibilities, the measure establishes that if students miss school for three consecutive days without just cause, their parents would face a $1,000 fine, six months in jail or both, at the court’s discretion. It is further established that government-aid recipients could lose those benefits.
The bill’s vote Tuesday was marked by strong teacher opposition, leading to several recesses and the speaker’s calls for order.
Education Secretary Julia Keleher urged students’ parents to demand that teachers give classes Monday.
“I urge parents to give the correct message and also to ensure their children receive the…education we are all legally and morally obliged to offer them. That is the right of all students, which we should and must always protect. Precisely because of this, we are on the verge of being able to offer them all the benefits contained in the education reform that will continue transforming the system so it becomes the tool that puts them on track toward a future in which they can compete in the world, among the best,” Keleher said in a statement.
Teachers said will meet in Luis Muñoz Rivera Park at 10 a.m. Monday and then walk toward the Capitol.