Opposition to governor’s educational reform plan grows in Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN – While waiting for the details of the educational reform announced by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, teacher groups, legislators and experts have begun to raise doubts about the virtues of the proposal.
For former Education Secretary Gloria Baquero, “the [department] has the constitutional responsibility for the country’s education,” which would be transferred to the private sector after recognizing that the government is not capable of efficiently managing an educational system.
Education Secretary Julia Keleher (Juan J. Rodríguez / CB)
“Telling a father that since his child’s school isn’t working, I will give you a voucher to go to another is to accept the system’s failure, and we cannot say there is no money,” the doctor in education and president of National University College (NUC) said.
Baquero questioned talk of the department not having a sufficient budget when there are fewer students and 300 additional schools are going to be closed.
“If you have fewer students and fewer schools, you must have fewer teachers and that generates savings. How that money is distributed efficiently is what I do in the private sphere. Why can’t the government do it?” she questioned, adding that bringing a person from the United States, in reference to Education Secretary Julia Keleher, to an agency they claim has no money and paying $250,000 to carry out a restructuring with old proposals, does not seem to be an efficient use of public money.
On the proposed increase of $125 a month to teachers, Baquero said it represents less than $1 an hour when divided by the hours a teacher works. “That is not doing justice to the teachers,” she said.
The former secretary stressed that in terms of the so-called “charter” schools, the model to be used should be evaluated.
“If it is only to pass the administration with the Education Department budget, we will have to see how the government maintains its responsibility for the education of the country in that way,” she said, explaining that with the elimination of the Board of Education the state is left without the only institution that did something to certify the quality of education on the island.
In a Radio Isla interview, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz expressed himself carefully regarding the proposal, indicating that any educational reform would have to be discussed and be for the benefit of all the components of the school community, such as teachers.
“To try to reform the educational system without the cardinal or leading participation of the teachers, simply is unacceptable, at least for me,” the Senate leader said.
For her part, Keleher pointed out in that same radio station that the educational reform was for the students and that the teachers were not part of that equation.
Meanwhile, the Broad Front in Defense of Public Education (Fadep by its Spanish acronym) forewarned that, just as was done in the past with the reform proposals presented by Sen. Eduardo Bhatia, an offensive to fight its passage will be formed.
The group that gathers members of the Federation of Teachers, Educamos and Unete announced that the first demonstration will take place in front of the governor’s office, La Fortaleza, next week.
Meanwhile, the president of the Federation, Mercedes Martínez, questioned that a few weeks ago the secretary of Education was against the closure of schools; however, it was announced it was planned a year ago.
Likewise, the president of Puerto Rico Teachers Association, Aida Díaz, and the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, expressed their opposition to the proposal and anticipated their fight against the government’s intentions.
“We oppose privatization, charter schools and educational vouchers. This is not new to us, we fought it in 1994, we opposed it in the last administration and we will do it now. The governor should not have the slightest doubt that we will show again that this plan will fail because it does not have the support of the teachers,” said Díaz.
Meanwhile, the executive president of the Nuestra Escuela nonprofit, Ana Yris Guzmán Torres, also opposed the initiative.
“The charter system has been widely used in the United States without showing superior results to those of public schools. Studies on this type of privatization have shown that some charter schools have had superior results to public schools, other similar results and many, inferior results. What has been documented is the discrimination policies of these private companies against student populations in greater poverty because it could affect their performance indicators,” Guzmán Torres said.
The educator stressed that the organization she leads has been a pioneer in the alternative education model, but cannot be considered as a charter.
“The charter [model] takes functioning public schools and operates them privately. That has never been nor will be our practice,” she said.
“At Nuestra Escuela, we have always nelieved and affirmed that the ideal place for every girl, boy and youth to have the necessary tools is public school. Schools from where recognized and anonymous figures have emerged who have brought pride and admiration from the country, their communities and their families. Nuestra Escuela defends and will defend free and quality public education from the nursery level to the university level,” said Guzmán Torres.