Puerto Rico’s governor is using the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria as justification to push school privatization. Eleven months after the hurricane, the first charter school opened on the island this August.
In March, without community input, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed a school choice bill allowing charter schools and private-school vouchers for the first time even as the island’s public school system struggled to rebound from the storm amid the deepening fiscal crisis and the exodus of Puerto Rican families to the mainland.
The Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the island’s teachers union and an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, has rallied against school closings and budget cuts. The union estimates that the island’s education department needs an estimated $300 million more for its schools. Instead, charter schools will be diverting precious public funds.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it should. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina pummeled New Orleans, historically black neighborhoods were hardest hit by flooding. City leaders exploited the disaster to close New Orleans public schools, lay off staff and create the first citywide charter school district in the country. A recent book on education reform says that nearly 13 years later, more than a third of New Orleans’ charter schools are failing.
We should heed the lesson of New Orleans. It’s time for Puerto Rico to redouble its investment in its public schools.