WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement on the mismanagement of Puerto Rico’s public schools by Gov. Ricardo Rossello and former Secretary of Education Julia Keleher:
“Nearly 1 million people took to the streets yesterday to call for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello to resign. His tenure of corruption and failure includes his mismanagement of the public schools.
“The governor and Puerto Rico’s former secretary of education, Julia Keleher, caused significant and lasting damage to children and prevented their access to a high-quality education. Rossello and Keleher’s arrogance and neglect created a perfect storm of indifference and incompetence.
“For two years, Rossello and Keleher ignored repeated requests from the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico and the AFT to use federal recovery money to fund and restore public education on the island. By ignoring our requests, they clearly showed their collective antipathy toward public education and how little they cared about the children and teachers in Puerto Rico’s public schools.
“Instead, they chose to grossly underfund public schools, leaving children with outdated textbooks, no school nurses and school buildings in disrepair. They shortsightedly closed more than 430 schools, one-third of the island’s public schools, and left families struggling to find alternative schools for their children to attend, often many miles away. They diverted much-needed funding from public schools to start charter schools, despite the growing evidence showing that many charters underperform compared with traditional public schools.
“To add insult to injury, we now find out from a recent U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General audit that Rossello and Keleher, to date, have spent $24.1 million—only 4 percent—of the $589 million in disaster relief funds provided by Congress to help fund and repair schools.
“Both knew full well that Congress stipulated in the recovery funding legislation that the money had to be spent in 24 months. Tragically—with the governor mired in a corruption scandal and Keleher being forced to resign after her arrest by the FBI for engaging in a kickback scheme—this federal recovery money will be largely unspent or spent unwisely.
“The governor and former secretary’s lack of commitment to the children of Puerto Rico is appalling. And their disrespect to the teachers on the island who threw their heart and soul into trying to teach and comfort these kids in the months after the storms is unforgivable. The sad chapter of Rossello and Keleher will forever be a stain on Puerto Rico.
“The next governor must not just repair the damage done to the public schools by the hurricanes, but must eliminate the utter contempt that Rossello and Keleher brought to their handling of public education.”