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Puerto Rico governor announces public education overhaul which includes vouchers and charter schools

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Puerto Rico’s governor said his administration will unveil a broad education reform bill on Tuesday aimed at incorporating school vouchers and charter schools into the bankrupt U.S. territory’s education system.

Speaking in a televised address on Monday, Governor Ricardo Rossello also said every public school teacher in Puerto Rico would receive a $1,500 annual salary increase beginning next school year. It was unclear whether the pay bump would require legislation.

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The governor’s remarks came 10 days after the island’s education secretary, Julia Keleher, said she planned to decentralize Puerto Rico’s education department and introduce “autonomous schools.”

Public school reform is a touchy issue in the U.S. territory, where teachers make an average of about $27,000 a year.

But Puerto Rico, struggling simultaneously through the biggest government bankruptcy in U.S. history and the aftermath of September’s Hurricane Maria, its worst natural disaster in 90 years, is trying to embrace much-needed structural reforms.

Its public school system, organized as a single, island-wide district, is among the weakest in the United States and long plagued by bloated administrative spending. In some age groups, less than 10 percent of students meet federal testing standards.

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Keleher, a former U.S. Department of Education official and private consultant, has worked with past Puerto Rican administrations on similar reform efforts that did not become law.

In a written statement following the address, Rossello said Puerto Rico has “students and teachers with extraordinary talent.”

“What we are lacking is a system that allows them to develop those talents,” he said.

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The plan met with immediate scorn from the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 40,000 educators in Puerto Rico. AFT President Randi Weingarten told Reuters the plan “doesn’t add up,” saying salary bumps will do nothing without more investment in schools.

“There’s a lot of nice flowery language in here, but … you can’t actually do the things [Rossello] is talking about doing and still divert resources from public schools,” Weingarten said.

The voucher program, projected to begin during the 2019-2020 school year, would allow parents to choose public or private school alternatives, but may face legal hurdles.

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The Puerto Rico Supreme Court struck down a similar proposed voucher program in 1994, during the administration of Rossello’s father, former Governor Pedro Rossello, saying the island’s constitution prohibited using public money to fund privately-run schools.

Puerto Rico is facing a crippling $120 billion bond and pension debt load, and filed a form of bankruptcy last May.

Four months later, it was hit by successive hurricanes, the second of which, Maria, devastated the island’s outdated infrastructure, killed dozens, and damaged school buildings to the tune of $8.4 billion.

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(Reporting by a contributor in San Juan; writing by Nick Brown; Editing by Daniel Bases and Tom Brown)


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USA mystified by ’15 Donald Trumps’ jibe at Rugby World Cup

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USA coach Gary Gold said he was mystified by a comment from England's Eddie Jones that the Eagles would play like "15 Donald Trumps" when they meet at the Rugby World Cup.

"I've absolutely no idea what he means by that," Gold said, ahead of Thursday's game in Kobe.

"We're just a team that's really got to focus on our own processes at the moment. We've got to worry about what we do when we get onto the rugby field.

"At this stage, with all due respect, we're not a good enough rugby team to be making comments or answers to questions like that. I don't know what it means."

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‘Absolutely disgusting’: Trump slammed for trolling Greta Thunberg climate speech

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US President Donald Trump stirred up fresh outrage on social media Monday with a tweet mocking an impassioned speech made by 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg at the UN climate summit in New York.

Her voice shaking with emotion in an address that was the defining moment of the summit, Thunberg accused world leaders of betraying her generation by failing to act on rising emissions, repeating the words "how dare you" four times.

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I'm one of the lucky ones," she said. "People are suffering. People are dying."

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Japan refers US military pilot to prosecutors over Osprey crash

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Japanese authorities on Tuesday referred the case of a US military pilot to prosecutors over the 2016 crash of an Osprey aircraft that fuelled sentiment against a US base on Okinawa island.

The crash did not kill anyone and only caused injuries to two of the five crew members aboard the US Marine MV-22 Osprey.

The Pentagon described the December 2016 crash as a "mishap", which saw the plane end up in shallow water off Okinawa.

But Japanese coast guard officials on Tuesday referred the case to prosecutors on suspicion that the pilot had been flying too fast, causing the crash, a coast guard spokesman said.

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