The Puerto Rican government’s push this year to increase school choice has been at least temporarily tripped up by a judge’s decision.
Superior Judge Iris González ruled that private school vouchers violate Puerto Rico’s Constitution, Primera Hora reported. In addition, González declared in the ruling released last Friday that only the University of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico’s municipalities may operate “alianza” schools, which are intended to be similar to charter schools.
If this latter decision is ultimately upheld, prominent charter groups on the U.S. mainland would be excluded from operating alianza schools.
Earlier this year, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed into law major changes for the U.S. territory’s schools, including the creation of vouchers for students to attend private schools, and the creation of “alianza” schools. Rosselló and Secretary of Education Julia Keleher have said the new school choice programs will expand the scope of educational opportunities, especially in the wake of Hurricane Maria. However, the island’s teachers’ union challenged the new measures in court, calling both vouchers and alianza schools unconstitutional.
A spokesman for the government said it would appeal the ruling, which was issued through Puerto Rico’s Court of First Instance, and indicated it was unsurprising that such big changes for education were drawing such resistance. The island’s Supreme Court has not yet issued a final decision on the constitutionality of vouchers and any limits on alianza schools.
A separate fight is taking place over the government’s plan to close more than 260 traditional public schools on the island, close to a quarter of all such schools in Puerto Rico.
Keleher said its imperative these schools close due to plunging enrollment and financial considerations, but the union is arguing such a move will disrupt communities and trigger an exodus of teachers and students.
In Friday’s ruling, González said that the education reform law’s structure of charter schools would allow private donations to improperly influence the direction of the otherwise public alianza schools, El Nuevo Dia reported.
In an interview last month, Keleher indicated that the department was narrowing down the list of potential alianza operators, and that the department could announce those operators in July.
As for vouchers, the judge said that the new law’s system was too similar to a proposal from the 1990s that ultimately did not survive a legal challenge.
Photo: Children play in the Guillermina Rosado De Ayala school’s courtyard in Loiza, Puerto Rico, earlier this year. The school was seriously damaged by Hurricane Maria. (Swikar Patel for Education Week)