Governor’s office to take back Puerto Rico Education reorganization plan
SAN JUAN – While substantial changes are being debated for the Puerto Rico Department of Education, House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez indicated that the governor’s office, La Fortaleza, will withdraw the reorganization plan that proposes the consolidating the Council of Education within the agency until the education reform proposal is addressed.
“The governor [Ricardo Rosselló] is going to take a look at certain concerns that some fellow legislators have raised about that reorganization plan and will be [included] with this bill. If we are going to approve a new law that is going to repeal Act 149, then we are amending, with a reorganization plan, a law that will lose validity,” he said.
The education reform proposes to repeal Act 149, or the Puerto Rico Education Department’s Organic Law, while Reorganization Plan 4 seeks to amend the same law. Were it approved before the passage of reform, the Council of Education’s consolidation would be repealed.
Along with the chairs of the Education and Special Education committees, Guillermo Miranda Rivera and Rafael “June” Rivera, respectively, the House speaker explained that the proposed consolidation must “wait until the new law is approved.”
Public hearings to be held
During a press conference in Méndez’s office, the three representatives announced that public hearings will begin Wednesday to evaluate education reform, which has already been met with opposition from several teacher organizations, such as the Broad Front in Defense of Education (Fadep by its Spanish acronym) and the Puerto Rico Teachers Association.
“This House has independence on criteria and seeks the best for the people,” Méndez said, adding that “a bill of such relevance merits great study, analysis, and evaluation, and for this reason, this House is going to open a process of public hearings that is transparent and where all sectors are heard.”
During the first hearing, scheduled for Feb. 14, the appearance of Education Secretary Julia Keleher and Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez is expected. Rep. Miranda Rivera said Keleher has confirmed her attendance.
In a public hearing slated for March 3, “teacher organizations will be heard,” but Méndez emphasized that “our commitment is to the student body, not to the union leaders.”
Other public hearings will be held in the educational regions of Arecibo, Feb. 21; Ponce, March 7; Carolina, March 9; and Mayagüez, March 14.
“I hope we can have an advanced educational system that puts our students at the same level as students in Europe,” Méndez said, then proceeding to highlight the virtues of the education system in Taiwan, where a socialist movement exists.
The charter schools system, a program of free school selection, greater ties to the nonprofit sector and changes to the budget are some of the initiatives contemplated in the governor’s education reform.
To questions from the press about whether the educational model seeks to privatize the public system, Méndez stated that “it’s not that we’re selling schools, […] we’re going to improve it to such a degree that it’s going to be the envy of the countries of our region, that’s what we aspire to.”
New bill to address special education
Although education reform proposes changes to island’s special education system, Rep. June Rivera said he will present the measure to establish guidelines for it “in the coming days.”
Rivera said the new bill proposes “to address complaints about special education services, particularly from parents,” as well as to adapt to provisions of the education reform and, in particular, establish the “public policy” to integrate students into the charter schools.
To questions about whether an additional special education bill was necessary despite the fact the governor’s reform addresses this issue, Méndez stressed that the representative’s bill “is more comprehensive,” but did not specify whether he agrees with the provisions of the education reform.
“The [education reform] bill, as such, is general; specificity will be seen in colleague ‘June’ Rivera’s bill,” Méndez said.