Back to School In Puerto Rico

Back to School in Puerto Rico kicked off to a chaotic start as students returned to schools still littered with debris, water damage, and broken furniture from Hurricane Maria which devastated the island nearly a year ago. Parents struggled to send their children to schools further from home after the government summarily closed over 260 schools. And hundreds of teachers scrambled to reassignments in other parts of the island. At a teacher walkout and protest in San Juan, organized by a progressive teachers group, the Federacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico, more than a hundred protesters railed against the lack of books, supplies, and other resources in their schools while the government plans to roll out new charter schools and a voucher program. In the meantime, the US territory’s Secretary of Education Julia Kelleher calls Maria’s devastation an “opportunity” and doesn’t dispute a reporter’s contention that she once said the storm was the “best thing” that could have happened to the island.

What’s happening to Puerto Rico is New Orleans after Katrina all over again. After that storm, political outsiders dismantled the city’s school system and handed the schools to charter school management companies. Today, New Orleans parents feel they have little voice in a system that often neglects the most disadvantaged students, treats teachers like dispensable, part-time workers, and doesn’t give families guaranteed access to a neighborhood school.

Making it Local

The plan to remake Puerto Rico’s schools to reflect schools in New Orleans is a continuation of a nationwide campaign to push large school districts to expand charter schools using what they call the “portfolio model”. The portfolio metaphor, drawn from the stock market, counsels district leaders to act like investors and sell, or in this case, close schools that are deemed underperforming, or hand them over to charter school management groups. Proponents of this approach recently received a big financial boost from wealthy private foundations that contributed at least $200 million to bankroll their ideology.

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Watch this presentation “Hurricane Lessons: What We’ve Learned from Post-Katrina Disaster Capitalism in NOLA Schools” made at a recent Netroots Nation, a national conference of progressive activists and thought leaders. Panelists, most of who are natives of New Orleans, explain that what happened to their schools is a warning sign for the families and citizens of Puerto Rico, and other large school districts, to heed.


The Alliance to Reclaim our Schools

People’s Action