On October 31, at the Heritage Foundation Frank Brogan, the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education, discussed the state of education in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has struggled with an underperforming education system and has had a population decline. The damage done by storms to Puerto Rico caused education reform to become much more important, although the issues that it meant to solve did exist prior to the storms. Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Education Julia Keleher proposed legislation that would create charter schools and a scholarship program. This was challenged but the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico approved it.
Brogan said that education reform had been considered in Puerto Rico before the hurricanes did damage. Due to population decline, which had occurred before the storms, the number of enrolled students had decreased, and this prompted people to think about how to change the education system to accommodate the smaller population. However, Brogan did point out that the storms had a significant impact: “So to say that those storms accelerated some of the difficulties they were already dealing with- with declining enrollment- is an understatement, but those phenomena had already begun prior to the storms…”
He supports what the Puerto Rican leaders did in creating charter school legislation. He discussed how people in the 1990s wanted to support charter schools to try something new: “… people were willing to look-at that time-at different approaches to how we educate our children, and it was not meant as some suggest to be an indictment of traditional public schools. They (charter schools) were given the opportunity to work back in the mid-90s because people started to believe that it would be important to create almost laboratories of change in public education.” Brogan pointed out how public schools who underperform often continue to avoid consequences: “There are variables that constitute the closure of a school. But in the traditional world of public education lack of success just isn’t one of them. It is possible because you are funded by the government to continue failure year after year after year and continue to point at the flawed raw material that sits in front of you every day as the reason for doing that.”
An important point he made close to the end of his speech was that whatever happens with education in Puerto Rico will be significant for the United States as a whole: “I and people like me believe this is going to matter. It’s not only going to matter for Puerto Rico, it will in its own way be a laboratory of observation for people all over the country. We’re going to look to Puerto Rico as a beacon of example of what change can bring, especially when you’re in a position to be able to put down at least temporarily the forces who would keep it exactly the way it’s always been.” He concluded by commending the Puerto Rican people for getting through the devastation that befell their island and preparing for a future “with young people at its core.”