Puerto Rico’s first school choice program was enacted in 2018 and launched during the 2019–20 school year. The program allows students who have been enrolled in either traditional public or charter schools for at least two years to use vouchers to attend the private or public school of their choice. Gifted students may also use the program to take courses at local universities. Learn more about Puerto Rico’s school voucher program on this page, including student eligibility, funding, regulations and more.
Puerto Rico’s first educational choice program
Nation’s 27th voucher program
407 participating students (Fall 2019)
65 participating schools (Fall 2019)
56 percent of students eligible territory-wide
Average voucher value: $5,120 (2019–20 projection)
Average voucher value as a percentage of state’s public school per-student spending: 37 percent
Limited to students who have been enrolled in public or charter school for at least two years
Puerto Rico students who have been enrolled in public or charter schools for at least two years will be eligible to use school vouchers that allow them to attend the private or public school of their choice.
The maximum amount for private school vouchers is set at 70 percent of the island’s baseline per-pupil funding amount. Puerto Rico Department of Education has the ability to set specific funding amounts depending on a student’s status. No more than 3 percent of the program’s funding may be used for administrative purposes.
Students in grades 2–12 who have been enrolled in a public district or charter school for at least two years and are enrolled in a public school the semester immediately before applying are eligible for vouchers. The department of education prioritizes vouchers for low-income families (defined as qualifying for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, or earning $47,638 for a family of four in 2019–20), students with severe disabilities, gifted students, students who have been adopted or are in shelters or foster homes, and victims of bullying or sexual harassment. When determining students to accept, the department of education uses a lottery weighted by these priorities.
The program’s total enrollment is capped at 1 percent of Puerto Rico’s total student population in 2019–20, which is about 3,000 students. The secretary of education has the discretion to lower the rate, though, and the secretary of education capped enrollment at 1,000 students for the first semester.
Puerto Rico’s first school choice program, in tandem with the island’s landmark education reform law that also allows for charter schools and greater local control, among other measures, is a great leap forward for families. Because of Puerto Rico’s high poverty rate, the program’s priority criteria may actually include more than half of all Puerto Rican students. As an experimental program, the island’s Department of Education has a lot of discretion in implementing and regulating the voucher system. Lawmakers should consider eliminating the requirement that students first attend a district or charter school to be eligible, or at least reduce the two-year minimum to one year. Students should not have to spend longer than necessary in an environment that is not working before gaining access to a voucher to attend a school that is a better fit.
Rules and Regulations
On August 9, 2019, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ruled that vouchers are constitutional, overturning a lower court decision. Asociación de Maestros v. Departamento de Educación, 2018 TSPR 150 (2018), Case Number: CT-2018-6
The Supreme Court’s decision overturned the adverse ruling of the lower court, which had relied erroneously on Asoc. De Maestros v. Sec. de Educación, 137 D.P.R. 528 (1994), an adverse decision from 1994. The court’s 2019 ruling was a 5-3 decision, with one judged recused. The ruling of the court was brief, simply reversing the lower court ruling and dismissing the complaint that was brought by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) teachers’ union—the national and local Puerto Rico chapter—against Puerto Rico’s Department of Education. The Justices explained their positions in four concurring opinions and two dissenting opinions. On August 22, the AFT filed a Motion to Reconsider, asking the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling; the motion was denied.
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