EdChoice, a group that backs school vouchers, is preparing to help Puerto Rico officials expand school choice, or what critics there have called “privatization.”
Robert Enlow, the group’s president, told Chalkbeat the request came from Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s secretary of education, and that EdChoice would “provide some technical assistance.”
“They’re brand new at this and we’re trying to help them understand what’s been going on in other states, how states have run [choice programs], what the rules are, what the benefits and the challenges have been,” said Enlow, who spoke to Chalkbeat in Austin at SXSW EDU. “It’s really around policy advice and fiscal expertise.” (EdChoice is a funder of Chalkbeat.)
Keleher said in an interview that she had spoken with people from EdChoice in a call, but that they were just one of many groups, from a variety of perspectives, whose advise she has received. She said during the conversation EdChoice mentioned their statistical staff, and Keleher was interested in learning more, but said there’s no formal agreement.
Keleher also said she is looking at different states that have implemented school choice programs. “I don’t want to make mistakes that people have made before,” she said.
Keleher said she’s open to a variety of policy views. “I don’t think there’s one way to solve a complex problem,” she said.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which rocked Puerto Rico schools and prompted thousands of residents to leave the island, Keleher and Governor Ricardo Rosselló have proposed closing 300 of its 1,100 traditional public schools. Rosselló also introduced a bill to Puerto Rico’s legislature that would allow for charter schools and vouchers.
“The school privatization proposal in Puerto Rico would pull much-needed money away from public schools,” said Sanders at a recent event at the Albert Shanker Institute, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. “The proposal at hand would completely disrupt and destabilize the existing public school system already struggling to rebuild.”
The involvement of EdChoice, formerly known as the Friedman Foundation, is sure to stoke the controversy even further. Puerto Rico’s governor has also met with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and Jason Botel, a department official, has been in “close communication” with Keleher.
Enlow rejected criticism that choice advocates are taking advantage of a natural disaster. “If there’s a tragic situation … it’s about whether you’re doing it well and doing it with good intentions,” he said.
This story has been updated with comment Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher.