Puerto Rico governor reveals proposed education reform
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Monday presented his proposal on education reform, which consists of a system focused on students, and which “promotes successful models of education.”
“In Puerto Rico we have students and teachers with extraordinary talent, intelligence and creative capabilities. What we are lacking is a system that allows them to develop those talents and skills to their maximum potential. This is an urgent mission,” the governor said in a broadcast speech.
“The current educational system does not respond to what is needed to train our students to succeed in a world that’s ever more competitive and complex,” added Rosselló.
Likewise, the secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE), Julia Keleher, commented that “this new law will allow for our children to finally become the priority of the system, which has been centered on the adults.”
Keleher added that “now, we will be focusing all our efforts and work in achieving the best education possible and, thus, our students will be ready to compete on a global level.”
The proposed reform includes the creation of charter schools, which allows for certain nonprofit entities, such as municipalities, universities or parent groups to administer certain schools.
Also, the PRDE secretary is given flexibility to promote Certified Educational Entities that will focus on providing specialized education to special education students.
The charter schools will be part of the public education system. These schools—as well as the Certified Educational Institutions that administer them—will be subject to the same standards of evaluation and accountability as the rest of the public schools.
Parents will have the option of using these schools that should encourage bilingualism (Spanish and English) in their teaching; prioritize an education focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); and special education.
Similar programs exist in 44 states—such as Florida, New York, Texas, and Illinois—as well as in Washington, D.C.
Similarly, the governor announced that for the first time in 10 years a salary increase of $125 per month will be granted to teachers; additional benefits for achievements—known as career ladder—will also be implemented.
Since 2014, there has been a reduction of 78,000 public students and the government expects 54,000 fewer students by 2022.
“This reduction will result in a loss of more than 30 percent of the student body in eight years. Given this, the number of schools will be adjusted after assessing the need, distance, condition of the campuses, and enrollment, in order to have better school facilities,” said Rosselló.
Likewise, he explained, there will be a reinvestment of the savings, broken down as follows: $35 million in special education services; $38 million in salaries; $24 million in books; $31 million in “provisional remedies”; $4 million in the Office for the Improvement of Public Schools (OMEP by its Spanish acronym); $7.5 million in vocational services; and $13 million in equipment.
As “an additional alternative to promote equality,” the reform creates the Educational Vouchers and Free Selection of Schools Program.
Through this program—which is projected to begin operating in phases of implementation for the 2019-2020 school year—”additional alternatives are provided so parents can select the best education for their children.”
Selecting public schools will be allowed, in addition to the granting of educational vouchers (scholarships), financed by the government, to select private education institutions, as detailed in the Plan for Puerto Rico.
There are recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the structure of this program that ensure its constitutionality, according to a release issued by the governor’s office, La Fortaleza, after the governor spoke.
Likewise, a “more efficient structure based on a decentralized education system will be established.” Its purpose is to allocate more than 75% of the Department of Education budget to “educational management in classrooms and related activities which give priority to students.”
The department will also “develop a budget formula of average cost per student that will consider the special needs of each one for the allocation of funds to each school and to the regional education office.”
This formula is expected to guarantee that each student receives the same investment of resources.
The “outdated structure” of the school districts, which the La Fortaleza said, have no autonomy or power to make changes in their regions—is eliminated and consolidated along with the educational regions. This new structure will be called the Regional Educational Office (ORE by its Spanish acronym).
The change seeks to achieve greater efficiencies, reduce costs, eliminate redundancy of processes, provide autonomy and obtain a faster response to various situations.
Seven OREs will be established with autonomy and led by a superintendent. This replaces the seven regions and the 28 school districts that “depend on the centralized bureaucracy.”
“The ORE will have an asset on decision-making and will have greater responsibility in the educational and academic administration. Currently, administrative functions are carried out in the regions and academic functions in the districts,” the release reads.
More responsibilities will be delegated to the principals, who will respond to the superintendent. These officials must develop a plan for their school to evaluate their performance, “that of the school and that of the student body.”
The faculties of the School Councils would be modified to give “true autonomy to the communities over their schools. Now, parents will be able to manage the school and resources with the Charter Schools.”
New Local Education Agencies (LEAs) “will have to improve the services to the Special Education population and establish integration programs for these students without discriminating them. There will be metrics to corroborate this progress.”
Likewise, the Secretaría Auxiliar de Servicios Integrados para Personas con Impedimentos (Integrated Services for People with Disabilities Support Office) will be kept.
A “modified diploma” will be created to consider the particular situation of each special education student, in the absence of the high school diploma.
A centralized complaint system will also be created in the Department of Education to deal with complaints in the first instance.
The reform will empower the secretary of Education to establish a “rigorous process for evaluating staff performance and accountability, where shortcomings and how to address them can be identified without delay.”
A system of annual evaluation of school performance will also be established; “this will allow to take opportune measures for their improvement.”
Likewise, metrics will be established “for progress in the subjects of English, Spanish, and Math; for the percentage of graduates; and for other areas such as teacher achievements and student work development.”
In addition, the Office of Appeals of the Department of Education will be created, which will “result in a procedural economy and resources for all parties.”
According to the release, “This will help to avoid excessive disruptions to students’ right to education due to personnel cases that take years. The Office of Appeals system will allow the Department flexibility to have fast and effective personnel processes.”
As for the correctional population, and to “achieve their productivity once they are reinserted into society, the secretary will establish collaborative agreements with the Puerto Rico Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. The agreements will implement school, vocational, and higher education programs.”