Charter Schools in Puerto Rico
On March 30th, 2018, the Government of Puerto Rico enacted Law Num. 85-2018, known as the Puerto Rico Education Reform Law (the “Law”). The Law is comprehensive in nature, and designed to loosen many of the bureaucratic ills that have stymied the island’s public education system for many years. It also seeks to foster choice and innovation, ultimately for the benefit of its student population.
Towards that end, the Law provides authority for establishment of charter public schools, or escuelas públicas alianza. Prior attempts to bring about such schools in the island inevitably fell to union resistance and other opposition forces. The Law itself was the subject of legal challenge shortly after its enactment. In Associación de Maestros, et. al. v. Departamento de Educación, et. al., the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, though, upheld the law, as consistent with the constitutional right to education, and respectful of teachers’ acquired rights.
The Law’s passage and subsequent vindication in court paved the way for the inauguration of the island’s first charter school last Fall. That school, run by the Boys & Girls Club of Puerto Rico, is currently limited to just kindergarten and first grade, with around 60 students in total. However, the Law contemplates that up to 10% of the public education system schools (equivalent to about 80 schools) can be of the charter variety. The existence of a number of closed school facilities, owing to the strain brought about by a decade-long financial crisis and the effects of Hurricane Maria, offer infrastructure possibilities for would-be operators.
This, combined with limited local, hands-on experience with charter schools, provides opportunity for seasoned operators interested in participating in the reform effort. The process to become so involved consists of submitting a Notice of Intent, which “must present the vision and mission that will be implemented by the charter entity, the grade levels and projected number of students, proposed opening date, location of facilities, and specific or unique characteristics of the model to be implemented.” If the Department’s Assessment Committee deems the Notice of Intent to meet the Law’s requirements, then a more detailed submittal is presented as the basis for the potential issuance of a charter – more information about process can be found at az-escuelasalianza-web.azurewebsites.net.
As is the case in many jurisdictions in the mainland, the Law envisions community commitment to, and involvement with, the charter schools – schools that will foster and reflect the peculiar needs of the local community. It also intends not just to improve the overall effectiveness and responsiveness of the educational system in Puerto Rico, but, by virtue thereof, to address some of the other societal problems that have plagued the island. Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose stands ready to assist you and your organization in exploring participation in this nascent reform effort. Please contact Jay Rosselló, a partner in our Education Law Practice, for more information.