Home > Uncategorized > First New Orleans, Now Puerto Rico: The “Vulture Capitalists” Use a Disaster as an Opportunity

First New Orleans, Now Puerto Rico: The “Vulture Capitalists” Use a Disaster as an Opportunity

For the past decade “reform” advocates have used the New Orleans Public Schools as the poster child for privatization, claiming that their takeover of schools in that city following its battering by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is evidence that privatized charter schools can outperform traditional public schools. No matter that the data is muddled on their assertion, they’ve repeated the information frequently enough that many in the public believe it is true.

Now comes Hurricane Maria. which has laid waste to Puerto Rico and made many of its schools unusable. And as Steven Singer reports in Common Dreams, the Trump administration, like the Bush administration before him, is viewing this crisis as an opportunity… an opportunity to allow privatizers to seize control of the public schools, throw the relatively high paid union teachers out, and rake in the profits. And the Education Secretary in that US Territory is on board!

“This is a real opportunity to press the reset button,” said Puerto Rican Secretary of Education Julia Keleher.

“…this [is a] transformational opportunity for us to start to think fundamentally differently about what it is to be in school, and how one goes about getting an education.”

And Mr. Singer translates what “press the reset button” means:

A dozen years ago in Louisiana, that meant stealing almost the entire New Orleans public school system in the aftermath of Katrina. About 90 percent of the city’s 126 schools were given to the Louisiana Recovery School District, which turned them all into charter schools.

In effect, Louisiana state officials elected by the white majority stole control from local school boards elected by the city’s black majority. More than 7,000 teachers most of whom were people of color and had been displaced by the hurricane found themselves replaced by mostly white teachers brought in from other parts of the country.

Now, more than 10 years later, the New Orleans experiment has been shown to be a failure. Scores on standardized tests have improved (kinda), but the curriculum has narrowed, teacher turnover has doubled, disadvantaged and special education students have even fewer resources while schools fight over high achieving children, students spend hours being bused to schools far from their homes, communities have been erased, and parents have less control over how their own tax dollars are spent.

That is what Keleher and others want to repeat in Puerto Rico – wrest control away from the public and give it to big business all wrapped up in a bow.

And what stands in the way of this kind of wholesale conversion? The teachers in Puerto Rico are the last best hope for staving off the vulture capitalists who want to seize on the suffering caused by the Hurricane. A small band of teachers peacefully protested the fact that the government has not opened schools that are structurally sound leaving them out of work and their students without the opportunity to attend school and with time on their hands. The result of the protest? 21 teachers were arrested and the schools remain shuttered.

Today less than half of the schools have reopened even though many other schools are now cleared of the hurricane victims who were sheltered there. The teachers in Puerto Rico and many on the mainland who witnessed the dissembling of New Orleans’ schools think they know why: the vulture capitalists are circling and the legislators are open to accepting their offer to run the schools.

 

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