Thousands of teachers have been striking and protesting for school funding around the U.S.—from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Kentucky and Arizona and beyond. But many people are unaware of the ongoing struggles of the Puerto Rican educators.
At the end of last week, police pepper sprayed members of the Puerto Rican teachers union (FMPR) as they protested against the Fiscal Oversight Board’s plan to close nearly another 300 schools, lay off thousands of teachers, cut their pensions, and impose charter schools. These brave teachers are set to strike on May 1st, May Day– International Workers Day—against these neoliberal education policies.
Mercedes Martínez, the President of the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, sent the below email to myself and other supporters over the weekend about the bitter struggle the union is waging. All of us in the U.S. must speak up in support of the union, as it’s our government that is imposing austerity on the island. So with Mercedes’ permission, I have republished her statement on the teacher’s struggle and the police brutality used against them.
I am writing all of you to let you know about what has been happening in Puerto Rico. On April 18, 2018 the Fiscal Oversight Board, imposed by the U.S. Congress, submitted different fiscal plans for our country. I attached them here, so you may read them. In the Commonwealth’s plan, page 70 and beyond you can see all of what they approved to be implemented for the Department of Education:
“PRDE [Puerto Rico Department of Education] has closed over 480 schools (30% of K-12 schools) since 1990. After SY2016-17, PRDE closed 167 schools, 84 and announced plans to close another 283 schools after SY2017-18.85 After an analysis of several factors including capacity, geographic and cultural characteristics, distance to neighboring schools, transportation costs, and facility quality, among others, the Government has determined that it will be able to close a total of 307 schools before FY2020, or an additional 24 schools beyond this summer’s planned closings, and it must do so.”
“PRDE must achieve $53 million in net personnel savings and $6 million in non-personnel savings in FY19.”
“The number of school administration (principals, office staff, etc.), food service staff, facility maintenance staff, and other school-specific staff shall be scaled down accounting for a smaller number of schools. This should result in $124.8 million in savings by FY2023.”
“These teacher focused measures should achieve $194.5 million in run-rate savings by FY2023, inclusive of transition costs under workforce reduction policies (e.g., liquidation of vacation pay”
As you can see, it’s Disaster Capitalism.
This will mean thousands of layoffs, hundreds of school closures, added to Law 85 that now allows 10% charter implementation beginning August 2018.
We are facing the biggest attack ever.
We had a National Assembly that decided to strike May 1st. And if the government does not revoke these measures on May 2nd, we will go to the governor’s mansion to be sure he attends to our proposals. If they insist, during the week of May 7-11 we are planning a boycott against standardized testing.
Yesterday, we had a civil disobedience action, which ended in police brutality against all the teachers that were protesting and been pepper sprayed. It was a protest against school closures and all these measures. I send you a link so you can see a video below. Police brutality was implemented against the protesters. Teachers resisted. Please send a solidarity message video if you can. Upload it to YouTube or post it on my wall in Facebook.
We expect more repression on May 1st and we will not back down!!
Please let us know what is happening in your state or country and how can we support your struggle.
Images of some of the teachers from the FMPR (Teachers Federation) pepper sprayed:
Before cops came:
President of the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico