Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Powerful conservative groups influence Puerto Rico Education Department

By on April 15, 2019

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló delivered a keynote speech at the anniversary gala of the Center for Education Reform, an entity related to the law firm where his brother works and which promotes charter schools. (Twitter)

Shareholder of firm where the gov’s brother works is a Center for Education Reform board member

SAN JUAN – One of the shareholders of the law firm that Jay Rosselló, brother of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, works for, sits on the board of the Center for Education Reform (CER), a nonprofit whose representatives met with the governor in December to learn about details of the Education Reform Law that allows the creation of alliance, or charter, schools.

According to CER’s website, Dennis Cariello is a shareholder of Hogan, Marren, Babbo & Rose Ltd. and the co-chairman of the firm’s education practice.

CER is a recognized entity linked to conservative groups that advocates for the privatization of schools through the development of charter schools and voucher program legislation for disadvantaged students to be educated at schools with more resources.

Hogan Marren also provided consulting to the Department of Education and then-Secretary Julia Keleher amid the drafting process of the education reform law, which allows the establishment of charter schools in Puerto Rico. The firm also collaborated with then-Senate President Eduardo Bhatia, during the past government administration, with his education reform bill, which also sought to establish what are locally called alliance schools.

CER is reportedly a member of two powerful conservative and libertarian entities, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network.

The Nation reports that both the State Policy Network and ALEC receive financial support from brothers Charles and David Koch, known in Puerto Rico for their media campaign to prevent Puerto Rico from seeking protection under the federal Bankruptcy Code.

Puerto Rico seems to have entered fully into a debate that has been developing stateside for decades, in which ultra-conservative policies are being established at the local government level, reflecting political campaign donations by different groups and the influence of think tanks. Among the policies pushed by these groups are the privatization of schools, market deregulation and tax reduction for the high earners.

On Friday, Gov. Rosselló confirmed that, on Dec. 10, he met in with his brother and CER representatives at his office, La Fortaleza, to provide “input on the reform the Department had done, not only the law, but the regulation.” The law to which the governor referred is the local educational reform that allows the creation of charter schools.

Gov. Rosselló said the meeting took place after participating in a CER event in October, where he asked for assistance in his administration’s efforts toward establishing charter schools. The event was CER’s 25th anniversary gala, for which the governor was a keynote speaker.

By then, the Education Reform Act was already approved in Puerto Rico and the governor’s brother Jay had been working at Hogan Marren for a year, providing “advice and counsel to public, private, non-profit and for-profit educational institutions, corporations, private equity firms, service providers and other participants in the educational space on a variety of topics….”

In a January blog post on the firm’s website by Jay Rosselló, he identifies himself as the contact person to explore the possibilities of establishing charter schools in Puerto Rico.

Among the founding members of CER is Alice Walton, the only daughter of the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and who, through the Walton Family Foundation, donated several thousand dollars to the Puerto Rico Education Fund (PREF) to invest in the education sector.

The idea of creating the PREF was of former secretary Keleher, who sought a salary raise to $400,000 and that it be financed by PREF.

In addition to the Walton Family Foundation, PREF also received $15 million from the Tenacre Foundation, linked to the efforts of conservative groups such as CER and ALEC.

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