Puerto Rico House Speaker calls fiscal board an obstacle to special needs students
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos Méndez said he was disappointed that the governor pocket-vetoed what he called the first viable law for special education in Puerto Rico and held the island’s fiscal board responsible for his inaction on the matter.
He stressed that his chamber will continue to seek alternatives to improve special education program services.
“We deeply regret that the decisions of the Fiscal Oversight Board, a federal entity imposed by our colonial status, is the obstacle on the road for children in special education to receive better quality in the services provided in these times. It is sad that a price is put on the needs of these talented students, who only need our help to reach their highest potential.
“The Board has to understand that this is not just an exercise in counting up dollars and cents on an Excel chart, this is about young people with a lot of potential who are being deprived of tools for their future, and that has to be denounced,” Méndez Núñez said in a statement.
“We are going to begin a process of evaluating initiatives to guarantee the benefits that House Bill 1484 had in its decrees. This fight does not end here, on the contrary,” Méndez Núñez added.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced that he did not sign House Bill 1484, which sought to create the new Special Education Law. He said in a statement that the decision followed the fiscal board’s indication that the measure required additional, unbudgeted funds, which makes it noncompliant with the fiscal plan.
After the board’s recommendation, the governor said, he was unable to enact the bill. Under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa), the board has the power to determine that a law is inconsistent with the fiscal plan and to render it null and void.
“As part of the analysis, the governor asked the Department of Education to review the fiscal impact numbers that the measure could have. Even so, the figure remained at $90 million per year, which made it impossible to sign the measure,” Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira said.
The measure would have ordered an evaluation of all disabled children by trained personnel at every school. The cost to train the personnel and for the evaluations is of more than $9 million dollars a year.
The legislation would have also created regional Special Education offices that would have an impact of more than $1.5 million. It also would establish a summer camp that would cost $3.7 million.
The measure’s greatest impact would have been the referrals for therapy within 60 days of a request for the service. The shortening of the terms for an evaluation of the services has a fiscal impact of more than $72 million.
“The Governor is totally committed to Special Education students. Act 85-2018 reaffirms this commitment, establishing a strong public policy of integration and greater services for this population of students,” the secretary said.
Among the initiatives cited by the administration for special education students are learning programs by the Center for the Development, Training and Research of Teaching; modified diplomas that consider the specific situation of each student in the absence of the fourth-year diploma; the Free Selection Program, “which will allow parents to send their children to the center that is most suitable for their particular needs”; and inclusive classrooms.
“The Governor will continue to evaluate all the initiatives that may benefit the Special Education students. He will also evaluate any piece of legislation that is presented on the matter in the future, to the extent that the initiatives can be financed,” the secretary added.
–Cybernews contributed to this report.