With charter schools and vouchers, the children of Puerto Rico now have a better chance

Moved by the state of emergency that Hurricane Irma left in Puerto Rico, the Secretary of Education and the Governor of Puerto Rico are hoping to tackle the issue of public schools’ poor infrastructure and low performance by creating more school choices for the children of Boriquen.  In particular, the Secretary of Education, Julia Keleher, is very interested in opening up charter schools for the first time in the history of the island.

In order to educate local leaders, during the month of February, the Secretary planned a town hall meeting inviting Puerto Rican parents, teachers, school leaders, and community advocates from the mainland to share their experiences as users of the charter school model.

One of the speakers, Reverend Michael Carrión, touched every heart when he told the story of his journey trying to build a charter school for the challenged youth population of South Bronx. The South Bronx is known for being a neighborhood plagued by gangs, violence and poverty. After failing twice in his attempt to receive permission to operate a charter school, he succeeded on the third try. Today, his model is used as an example of how to run a school in a way that changes the trajectory of communities at risk.

Representing Philadelphia, a group of parents, teachers and administrators spoke about the success of a bilingual charter school named Antonia Pantoja. Their testimonies shed light upon an audience not familiar with the latitude of implementation strategies available to charter school operators. They discussed, among other things, the kind of hands on academic support they are capable of delivering, as well as the ample room for innovation allowed within this model, which translates to a more individualized education for the students.

In addition, Osvaldo García, the principal and founder of Passport Charter School, spoke with enthusiasm of the services this choice provides for children with special needs, since the school is dedicated to serving autistic children. Garcia explained in detail the advantages of having a decentralized system, in lieu of the huge bureaucracy imposed by the districts.

Many Puerto Rican families dream of the day when they can send their children to high quality private schools or to a public school different than the one assigned to them based on their zip code. However, this dream has been unattainable due to the lack of educational choices that were available under the old legislation. Thankfully,Governor Ricardo Rosselló just signed a law to create charter schools and vouchers for children in Puerto Rico.

In response, the teacher’s union has launched a campaign to turn public opinion against this project, arguing that the current administration wants to privatize public schools. Even though, as it was explained at the town hall, charter schools are public schools: free and open to anyone.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela, and now Puerto Rico is ready to change its world! At last, the children of la isla del encanto will have access to the opportunities they deserve.  We celebrate the courage and leadership of the elected officials that made this possible, and we congratulate the Puerto Rican community overseas for their unwavering commitment to improve the education for those living on the island.