Puerto Rico governor enacts church schools law
SAN JUAN – Noting that this is a programmatic commitment established in his Plan for Puerto Rico, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló enacted Wednesday Senate Bill 255, which establishes the new church schools law, exempting these institutions from government regulations or paying the applicable taxes to Treasury for operating a school site.
Although church schools must apply for certification and present their curricula to the Board of Education, they are exempt from the licensing and operational requirements of this government entity. The bill states that the government cannot regulate, influence in any way the selection of academic faculty, books or curricula of church schools.
Accompanied by representatives of the religious sector, legislators and a group of students, the governor assured that this law reestablishes the legal framework of Act 82 of 1995, which defined the church schools, but that former Justice Secretary César Miranda left without effect to establish regulations for these institutions. It would have also required the establishment of gender perspectives in the curriculum, which was rejected by the religious sector.
The governor assured that the measure defends “religious freedom” and “does not deprive access to all sectors in Puerto Rico to seek proper and adequate education, and that is worthy for their family,” or affording parents the freedom to decide about their children’s education.
The governor also defended an amendment he requested to be included in the bill that called for church schools to submit their curricula to the Board of Education, even if it was not to alter or regulate it. For this change, the House canceled rule 39, which establishes that only the legislators who vote against a measure can request reconsideration.
Caribbean Business asked whether this law differentiates between church schools and the rest of the private educational institutions that have to submit their credentials to the Board of Education and how its regulations represent an obstacle to religious freedom?
“There is a global rise in different alternative educational methods. Part of our commitment was to give them the space, and we are going to do it. As I stated, this is a subset of that kind of teaching. Of course, it is up to all of us to make sure the results are positive, but the experience with this sector is there have been positive [results],” Rosselló replied.
The governor said his commitment is to extend this type of alternative teaching so parents have greater educational alternatives for their children.
“The intervention of the state occurs when there is participation of the state in the affairs of the individual or the private person. There are church schools that do not receive any funds from the government, and yet the state wanted to regulate what was taught in that church school. And the argument presented is: ‘I have nothing of yours, why you are going to tell me what to teach,'” House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez replied.
The speaker explained that this law prevents another Justice secretary from intervening with church schools. He added that the presentation of the curriculum will allow parents and public institutions to assess what students are taught if they transfer from a church school to a public school.
Regarding the tax exemptions, Méndez said that “other private institutions also have exemptions. Everything that functions as a nonprofit entity has exemptions.”