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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.

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.

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.

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“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.

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.

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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.

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

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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George Conway calls out fears Trump will compromise new US intelligence initiative aimed at Russia

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On Saturday, George Conway drew attention to a specific passage of a new article from The New York Times about the intelligence community's efforts to counterattack the Russian power grid, in response to years of covert Kremlin attacks on our own:

“[O]fficials described...hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern...that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation...to the Russian foreign minister.” https://t.co/BXTjjXBmia

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Trump goes on ‘TOTAL LOSERS’ tirade with manic tweet attacking ‘totally out of control’ media

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Trump’s hamfisted attempt to wag the dog with Iran unraveled fast

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

We can’t say with any certainty that Iran wasn’t behind the attacks on two ships in the Gulf of Oman this week, but it is clear that the Trump regime’s account of what happened unraveled very quickly. Shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a video of a small vessel removing something Pompeo said was a mine from the damaged port side of one of the ships, the vessel's owner said that it had actually been struck on its starboard side, above the waterline, by a flying object. If this were in fact an effort to pull a Gulf of Tonkin, then the fact that this was the best dog-wagging they could conjure up would be downright pathetic.    

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