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Puerto Rico’s education system is in crisis. In the last few years, the Island’s public schools have suffered from a depressed economy, decreasing population, violence, dismal test scores, and, most recently, Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Parents have become increasingly frustrated and hopeless, feeling there are no real options to provide a good education for their children. But now, that may be about to change.

The Program

In March 2018, the Puerto Rican legislature enacted the Free School Selection Program, which gives needy families scholarships so that they can send their children to the school of their choice. Families can choose either a private school or a public school in another neighborhood. The program prioritizes students who are low-income, disabled, adopted or in foster homes, victims of bullying or sexual harassment, gifted, or falling behind in their education. Any student who has been enrolled in a public school for more than two years is eligible.

The Lawsuit

Almost immediately after the legislation was signed, however, one of the Island’s teachers’ unions filed a lawsuit to stop these scholarships from going to families. The union claims that the program violates the Puerto Rico Constitution’s prohibition against using public money “for the support” of private schools. But the Program is designed to “support” families, not schools, and is entirely constitutional.

In response to the lawsuit, the Institute for Justice (IJ) has partnered with three Puerto Rico families who want to apply for scholarships. Each of these families has grave concerns with the schools their children are in right now, and they want the opportunity to choose a school that better fits their children’s individual needs. IJ filed a petition for these parents to intervene as defendants in the case so that they can argue on behalf of the scholarship program and their children.

Lawsuit Updates

On July 6, the Puerto Rican trial court granted IJ and the families’ petition to intervene, making them official defendants in the case.  On July 13, the Puerto Rican Supreme Court accepted the case for immediate review, asking all the parties to submit briefing on the Program’s constitutionality by July 20.  On August 9, 2018 the Supreme Court upheld the scholarship program.

About the Institute for Justice

IJ is a national nonprofit law firm that has represented families defending educational choice programs in 21 cases across the United States, including twice at the U.S. Supreme Court. These programs have been crucial for the education of hundreds of thousands of children. IJ is determined to defend educational choice for the children of Puerto Rico as well.

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Andrew Wimer Director of Media Relations [email protected]

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