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Possible Conversions to Charter Schools Mark Puerto Rico's Latest Education Fight

The teachers' union for Puerto Rico and the island's education secretary cannot agree on where the growth of charter school officially stands.

On Tuesday, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, or AMPR, alleged that Secretary of Education Julia Keleher has essentially kept teachers, parents, and the public in the dark about the possible conversion of 30 traditional public schools into charters. However, Keleher has responded that the allegation results from a misunderstanding or confusion about the process. 

Click for more coverage of parent engagement in schools.

The disagreement over even basic facts of the situation highlights ongoing tension between the two parties. The island's government, with Keleher's support, approved the creation of charters last year through a new education law, with supporters saying creating more school choice would make the island's educational system more attractive. (The island's public schools currently enroll just over 300,000 students.) The first charter opened in Puerto Rico at the start of this school year. However, AMPR, which is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, opposed the law, saying it would allow private interests to control what's supposed to be public education. The law also created a new voucher system slated to start in the next school year. 

See Our In-Depth Coverage: Putting Puerto Rico's Schools Back on Track

In a statement issued Thursday, AFT President Randi Weingarten said AMPR had received inquiries from teachers and parents who she said had "informally" learned that the 30 schools would be converted into charter schools. 

In a separate letter to Keleher, AMPR President Aida Díaz wrote that, "This lack of transparency and access to information contributes to a climate of uncertainty that could later foster the loss of students to the system and an exodus of professional talent. Teachers are blindfolded regarding their future. Parents are in the uncertainty with no participation on the educational processes of their children."

But Keleher said the anger from Díaz and Weingarten is simply off base. On Thursday, she said the department had received applications for charter school conversions for 30 traditional public schools from school leaders or outside partners with these schools, but that no decisions had been made about those applications. Keleher said her department simply publicized that it had received these applications. 

"We shared information, and they thought I was rendering a decision," Keleher said. 

Two applications to start new charter schools have already been approved by Keleher's office, and they are due to open in the 2019-2020 school year, she added. 

To learn more about Puerto Rico's first charter school, called Vimenti, watch the Education Week video below: 

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