Free School Selection Program
- Enacted 2018
- Launched 2019
This is Puerto Rico’s first school choice program. The Free School Selection 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.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (Spring 2021)
Participating Schools (2019–20)
of Students Eligible Territory-wide
Average Voucher Value (2020–21 projected)
Average Voucher Value as a Percentage of Territory’s Public School Per-student Spending
Participation in the Puerto Rico Free School Selection Program
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 $48,470 for a family of four in 2020–21), 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 2020–21, which is about 3,000 students. The secretary of education has the discretion to lower the rate prior to a given school year, though.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Puerto Rico’s Free School Selection voucher program helps hundreds of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students in grades 2–12 who have attended a public school for at least two years and who are from families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Although one of the more restrictive eligibility requirements, due to the island’s high rate of poverty, about 56 percent of Puerto Rico students are eligible for a scholarship. However, the total number of scholarships available is capped at 1 percent of the island’s total K–12 student population.
The average scholarship size is about $2,300, which is only about 37 percent of the average expenditure per student at Puerto Rico’s public schools.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Puerto Rico policymakers should dramatically increase the available vouchers and expand eligibility to all students (prioritizing scholarships based on need). They should also eliminate 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. The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes
- Geographic Limit: Territory-wide
- Enrollment Cap: 1 percent of total student population
- Voucher Cap: 70 percent of per-pupil funding ($4,480 in 2020–21)
- Testing Mandates: None
- Budget Cap: None
- Be accredited by an approved accreditor
- Maintain a committee with a social worker to combat bullying and sexual harassment
- Provide documentation to department of education that voucher students are demonstrating satisfactory academic progress
- Administer a national standardized assessment chosen from those maintained by the department of education if requested by participating families
- Schools and others committing fraud with vouchers are subject to fines and sentencing
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.
Free School Selection Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
We don’t yet know of any Puerto Rico-based organizations that are fighting for educational choice opportunities. If you know of one you’d like to submit to our team, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.