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’s first educational choice program
Nation’s 27th voucher program
62 percent of students eligible territory-wide
Limited to students who have been enrolled in public or charter school for at least two years
Maximum value: $5,120 (2019–20 projection)
Maximum value as a percentage of state’s public school per-student spending: 80 percent
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 80 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. The Puerto Rico Department of Education has the ability to set specific funding amounts depending on a student’s status. No more than 2 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 are eligible for vouchers. The department of education will prioritize vouchers for low-income families, 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, 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 estimated at 8,790 students. The secretary of education has the discretion to lower the rate, and the first-year enrollment cap has yet to be determined.
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 that relied on a prior ruling from 1994, (Asoc. De Maestros v. Sec. de Educación, 137 D.P.R. 528 (1994)).
The Court’s decision overturned the adverse ruling of the lower court. It 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. That motion was denied. Asociación de Maestros v. Departamento de Educación, 2018 TSPR 150 (2018), Case Number: CT-2018-6.
Receive Educational Choice Updates Straight to Your Inbox.