CTU to mayor, ally: Why are you hosting proponent of Trump-DeVos education privatization plan for Puerto Rico?
CHICAGO, February 20, 2018—The CTU has learned that on Wednesday CPS charter operator Aspira will host a tour with mayoral ally State Senator Iris Martinez and Abel Nazario Quiñones, chair of Puerto Rico’s Senate Education Commission. Quiñones is touring cities in the region that include Chicago, Indianapolis and Milwaukee to advocate for sweeping – and draconian – school privatization in Puerto Rico. Right-wing Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosselló proposed the plan earlier this month in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Maria and a debt crisis that hedge funds and heavyweight investors have used as a pretext to eliminate or privatize public services, public pensions and public civic projects.
The Rosselló/Quiñones proposal mirrors Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ policies to expand school privatization, and mimics the pillaging and privatization foisted on New Orleans’ public school system after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Critics have called Rosselló’s and Quiñones’ school privatization push “Katrina on steroids” – a sarcastic nod to former CPS boss Paul Vallas’ massive school privatization program when he ran New Orleans’ school district in the wake of Katrina.
“While Emanuel is using Trump to try and bolster his poll numbers in the Latinx community, it’s clear that on the issue of public education these too are explicitly aligned,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “We ask a simple question: why is Emanuel ally Iris Martinez meeting with a leading advocate of Rosselló’s right-wing Trump/DeVos privatization agenda – what teachers and critics are calling the worst school privatization proposal in history? Both Emanuel and Martinez tread dangerous ground as they campaign for Latinx voters, who widely recognize that privatization is simply another form of resource theft that benefits the wealthy at the expense of working class families.”
Aspira’s management narrowly averted a strike by unionized employees last year – what would have been the first strike against a charter operator in the nation’s history. Sen. Martinez has worked for many years with Aspira management, who may be angling for a piece of the privatization pie in Puerto Rico. Island authorities had already shuttered hundreds of public schools before the hurricane, citing the need for ‘austerity’ to meet the demands of Wall Street creditors. Nearly half of Puerto Rico's debt is interest and fees owed to some the nation's most politically leveraged vulture hedge funds. Parents have had to battle the Puerto Rican governor relentlessly since Hurricanes Maria and Irma to try to prevent more school closures.
“This destructive privatization playbook is designed to enrich corporate privatizers, crush labor rights, and undermine public accountability,” said Sharkey. “In Chicago, Rahm is undercutting public education with every bogus strategy he can deploy: a rubber stamp board, school closings that hit poor neighborhoods the hardest, and endless charter expansion – no matter how crooked or incompetent the operator. Senator Martinez should understand that she’s mixing company with a proponent of a truly despotic school privatization agenda for Puerto Rico that is designed to transfer even more public resources into private hands. Whether school privatization is at play here in Chicago or on an island reeling from a massive natural disaster, the goals are the same: shut down public schools, transfer those public dollars to the coffers of private operators, gut workers’ rights and wages, and cut parents out of any meaningful voice in their children’s education.”
Like Emanuel’s school privatization policies in Chicago, the Rosselló/Quiñones proposal for Puerto Rico would push students out of special education, reduce physical education requirements and erode seniority for educators. The bill would decimate workplace rights for educators and open an unlimited market to charter operators in either new schools or converted public schools, with no limits on the number of charters or subcontracting of services. The proposed legislation fails to commit to current collective bargaining agreements, including health insurance for public education workers. The original proposal also included a voucher component that would strip additional taxpayer funds from public education, a proposal that has garnered massive public opposition and is expected to be included in a separate bill.
“We stand with our fellow public educators in Puerto Rico who are resisting Rosselló’s deal to enrich hedge fund ‘education investors’ at the expense of local students,” said Sara Echevarria, Grievance Director for the CTU. Echevarria went to public elementary and high school on the island, attended the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, taught on the island before moving back to Chicago, and has helped coordinate CTU relief efforts for Puerto Rico’s students. “Emanuel and Martinez must reject the Quiñones/Rosselló corporate education ‘reform’ agenda – an agenda that doesn’t give a damn about educating working class students – particularly Black and Latinx students – and instead seeks to turn public schoolchildren into private profit points and break the backs of workers’ unions. Emanuel’s allies – including hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin and the mayor’s former education mouthpiece, Illinois governor Bruce Rauner – stand shoulder to shoulder with other rabid privatization proponents and union-busters, from the Koch brothers to the Waltons. The problem with public education in Puerto Rico is the same problem we have here: a lack of resources. Our teachers are excellent, our schools produce outstanding graduates, but without resources and funding, schools struggle – here and on the island.”