Puerto Rico’s first school choice program was enacted in 2018 and is scheduled to launch for 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 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, which was around $6,400 in 2017–18 but is in the process of changing with the island’s new funding formula. Vouchers for public school scholarships may be worth 50 percent more than those for private schools. The Puerto Rican Department of Education has the ability to set specific funding amounts depending on a student’s status.
Students in grades 2–12 who have been enrolled in a public district or charter school for at least two years are eligible for vouchers. The Department of Education will prioritize vouchers for low-income families, students with severe disabilities, students who have been adopted or are in shelters or foster homes, victims of bullying or sexual harassment, and gifted students.
The program’s total enrollment is capped at 3 percent of Puerto Rico’s total student population in 2019–20, which is approximately 9,500 students. After that school year, the Department of Education has the discretion to raise the enrollment cap to 5 percent of the total student population.
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 putting the private school voucher amount on equal footing as the public school voucher in order to truly empower Puerto Rican families with the options that work best for them. Lawmakers should also 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, 2018, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ruled that vouchers and charter schools are constitutional. Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico v. Departamento de Educación, TSPR NúM. CT-2018-0006. In their 5-3 decision, the Court rejected the complaint brought by the national and local chapters of the American Federation of Teachers teachers’ union. After the ruling, the plaintiffs filed a Motion to Reconsider, asking the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to reconsider its decision. This motion was also rejected by the Court; a mandate finalizing the case was issued on November 7, 2018. The Court’s decision effectively overturned their 1994 adverse decision in Asociación de Maestros v. Torres, 137 D.P.R. 528, 1994 PR Sup. LEXIS 341, which was welcome relief for families in Puerto Rico.