May 28, 2018
Puerto Rico's governor, Ric Roselló, just signed onto a plan to close 283 of the islands’ 1100 schools. This wave of school closings comes in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last summer.
The plan follows 173 school closings carried out already last year. In fact, Puerto Rico already suffered a storm. . . a storm of financial debt, forced on taxpayers by hedge funds and big banks over the course of the last decade, to the tune of over 73 billion dollars. The resulting financial indebtedness has meant cuts in every service, and a deep, job killing recession, driving thousands out of Puerto Rico to try their luck on the U.S. mainland.
Wall Street and its politicians are using the destruction of the hurricanes as another opportunity to cut public services, and to open up education to privatization. The plan proposes to hand 10% of the island’s schools to private charter operators, and to give 3% of the students on the island school vouchers. Both initiatives will take even more students out of the public schools – providing an excuse to starve them of even more funding. Wall Street banks will use New Orleans’ playbook from Hurricane Katrina. There, after the hurricane, ALL public schools were converted to charters.
Up until now, the unions in Puerto Rico have fought, through strikes and protests, to prevent charter schools from taking root there. And after the hurricane, teachers themselves worked with their communities to clean up and repair schools. They acted both to get the schools open to educate students, but also to try to pre-empt their closure by the government.
“They think that because our island is vulnerable, because it doesn't have electricity, that we're going to let them privatize our schools and fire our teachers,” said Mercedes Martinez, the president of one teacher union.
The bourgeoisie is coming for working class schools everywhere in this country: in Puerto Rico, but also in big cities like Chicago and Detroit and all around the country. But of course, in states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona, teachers have fought back, both for pay and to bring back some of the funding that has been cut.