In Puerto Rico, the local public school is the only place for members of the community to gather. That’s one of the reasons why Aida Diaz, president of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, is calling the proposal by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to close 300 schools and cut $300 million from education spending wrong.
"The government is looking for a quick fix for transformation of the school system, but they don't see schools as an investment for the future of Puerto Rico," said Diaz during a conference on the recovery and reconstruction of Puerto Rico held March 1 in Washington, D.C. The event was sponsored by the AFT, the Albert Shanker Institute and the Hispanic Federation.
When the AFT began its relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, "we saw firsthand that schools were centers of the community, not just places of learning," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. The governor's proposal pushing charter schools and private school vouchers "are prescriptions that will make things worse, not better," she said. "Economic recovery is tied to the sustainably of Puerto Rico's public schools. Puerto Rico's schools don't have the money they need; you can't divert money further from them. We need investment, not austerity."
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) criticized the governor's plans, as well.
"Students can ill afford to have large swaths of funds diverted from schools," said Blumenthal, who along with Sanders and Warren has co-sponsored the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act of 2018.
Sanders called the effort to transition public schools to charter schools and vouchers "disaster capitalism" and said it reminded him of what happened with schools in New Orleans. "It's taking advantage of a disaster to do bad things."
"Now is the time for Puerto Rico to redouble its investment in education," said Warren, adding that "cuts to education sends a grim message." She noted that "there is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to come together to rebuild this island. We have a chance to help the people of Puerto Rico turn a catastrophe into a triumph."
As Weingarten put it, "Puerto Rico's best years are in its future, not its past. We can rebuild the economy and provide a path to sustainable schools and help Puerto Rico thrive."