While the Secretary of Education, Betsy “we don’t need no education” DeVos, is off trying to convince parents that turning their kids’ public schools into a privatization free-for-all is in their best interests, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) just scored 40,000 more educators to support public schools. On August 3rd, the AFT, Asociacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR) and AMPR-Local Sindical signed a three year agreement to “help fight austerity and privatization” of public education in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s economy has been in shambles ever since their government made some ill-advised financial investments with hedge funders who didn’t think twice about taking advantage of the tiny island. To pay down their $70 billion debt, Puerto Rico's officials decided to close over 160 schools to save $7-$10 million. Add to that a 2014 law banning an increase in pay for teachers until the year 2022, and you’ve got a recipe to destroy their education system. Not only have teachers been forced to leave the island for the mainland in search of jobs, but according to the AFT, over 60,000 students have also left the island in pursuit of education.
It’s an ugly cycle that AFT hopes to help stop since DeVos seems to have no intention of doing so.
As AFT’s president, Randi Weingarten stated, “The people of Puerto Rico didn’t cause this crisis, but they’re forced to shoulder most of the burden because of the actions of hedge funders and irresponsible government deals.” Weingarten knows that it is the children and grandchildren of those poor decision makers that are paying the cost as Puerto Rico is being forced to raid their education coffers to pay their debt. For all the hard work teachers have invested in educating children, they are being repaid with a pay freeze at best or at worst, a pink slip.
The Secretary- General of the AMPR-Local Sindical, Grichelle Toledo expressed just what this partnership means to educators in Puerto Rico:
“We believe that this is a great opportunity to join our voices with the voices of 1.6 million AFT members. Both active teachers and retirees will benefit from this affiliation, and we will have a stronger voice in education and politics on the mainland and in Puerto Rico.”
DeVos and her privatization cabal may have money and government jobs, but the AFT has just added a valuable and large contingent of educators with Puerto Rico. Thanks to the efforts of the AFT and President Wiengarten, parents and educators are standing up to the selling out of our children’s educational system.
The fight is just beginning. My money is on the AFT.