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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Organizations seek to stop proliferation of charter schools

Sen. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén

By The Star Staff

A group of organizations representing a broad spectrum of Puerto Rican society denounced on Tuesday the aggressive charter schools expansion plan in Puerto Rico, which they say aims to drain enrollment and resources from public schools.

The trend includes Paradiso College Preparatory and LEAP Social Enterprise, two companies that intend to receive public funds for private use. Paradiso College Preparatory is part of a conglomerate of 14 corporations supported by Act 22 investors seeking to buy a property and expand this public education system’s privatization model. Likewise, LEAP Social Enterprise, a company linked to multiple scandals related to the management of a charter school in New Jersey, will receive $9.5 million in federal funds to expand the model used at the LEAP STEAM+E Academy of San Juan charter school to 10 other communities in Puerto Rico.

“The public education of the people is being viciously attacked,” said Mercedes Martínez, president of the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation. “There is an attempt to dismantle it to privilege the friends of Law 22, as is the case of Robert Acosta and his charter Paradiso College. This company intends to evict the Vila Mayo School community to benefit the pockets of Law 22 investors who see dollars and cents in our students. That is why we will defend the right to public education for all. Puerto Rico needs to strengthen its public education system, not dismantle it. We need true school autonomy, and for this Law 85 must be repealed and replaced by a true Educational Reform Law.”

The group charged that one of the investors behind this conglomerate is Kira Golden, a beneficiary of Act 22 who has acquired almost a dozen buildings in Río Piedras and who has openly stated that Hurricane Maria was a “blessing” for Puerto Rico because it has allowed outside investors, spurred by Act 22 incentives, to enter the real estate market and buy properties at bargain prices.

“Kira Golden is a Law 22 vulture investor who started by acquiring property in Río Piedras and now wants to monopolize our public education by diverting funds from our schools to profit from the corrupt business of charter schools,” said Alonso Ortiz Menchaca, executive director of El Otro Puerto Rico. “This privatization model seeks to put public money in private pockets by guaranteeing the profits of these companies with our taxes while allowing them to evade the responsibility of providing information about their operations and trampling on the rights of our teachers. Handing over our educational system to the Law 22 invaders would be handing over our sons and daughters into the clutches of vultures that seek to take us out of our country and impoverish us in the process.”

The coalition of organizations has called for a march against charter schools on Thursday at 3:30 pm, from Plaza Colón in Old San Juan to La Fortaleza. The coalition is also demanding the approval of a joint resolution filed in the Senate to establish a moratorium on the creation and expansion of the public system privatization model.

“Senate Joint Resolution 424 proposes an immediate moratorium on establishing charter schools in our archipelago until the form and manner in which the Department of Education is establishing these contracts without providing information to the community, or consulting it, are investigated,” Martínez said. “This is our demand for the march on Thursday, June 1.”

Senate Joint Resolution 424 was introduced by Sens. María de Lourdes Santiago Negrón of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP by its Spanish acronym), Ana Irma Rivera Lassén and Rafael Bernabe Riefkohl of the Citizen Victory Movement (MVC by its Spanish initials) and Migdalia Padilla Alvelo of the New Progressive Party, and independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot. The measure seeks to declare a five-year moratorium, during which the Puerto Rico Department of Education (DE) would be prohibited from approving the establishment or expansion of charter schools, or “Alianza Public Schools,” to guarantee that existing public schools have adequate funds and resources to serve the student population of their communities with dignity, and that all families in Puerto Rico have access to a quality public education.

Nehemías García, spokesman for the MVC Education Network and a teacher in the public education system, condemned the fact that charter schools do not follow the teaching curriculum of the island’s educational system or DE public policies.

“These companies receive public funds for Special Education teachers and support staff, but they resist compliance with the services required for special education students, Spanish learners, and immigrants, among others,” García said. “They also turn non-secular institutions into charter schools, such as the Christian Military Academy in the Arecibo Educational Region. The DE insists on using public resources to guarantee the profits of private entities, while public schools lack what is necessary for their proper functioning. And that is why as a network and as a movement, we strongly oppose the Department of Education privatization.”

PIP spokesman and House Rep. Denis Márquez Lebrón said meanwhile that it was necessary to maintain the integrity of the education system to safeguard the fundamental right to free public education.

“The Puerto Rican Independence Party rejects the privatization of the Puerto Rican educational system, and we demand the fundamental right to free public education,” he said. “Together with the teachers and the students, we will not stop defending the integrity of our education system. For this reason, we join the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation’s call to march on Thursday, June 1 in defense of public schools.”

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