San Juan, Puerto Rico—Today, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court rejected a teachers’ union’s challenge to the Free School Selection Program, and declared the program constitutional. As a result, up to 10,000 Puerto Rican families will be able to apply for government scholarships to send their children to the private or public schools of their choice. Scholarships will be available for the 2019–2020 school year.
The three Puerto Rico families who defended the program are grateful for the result and look forward to applying. “Justice has been done for my daughter and for the children of Puerto Rico, who will benefit from this great opportunity,” said Jessica Ñeco, one of the mothers who defended the program in court. “We are very happy to have been vindicated by the Supreme Court.” The three families were represented by the nonprofit organization the Institute for Justice (IJ).
The Free School Selection Program was signed into law in March 2018. 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.
Immediately after the program was passed, however, it was challenged in court by a teachers’ union, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico. The union argued that the program “supported” private schools in violation of the Puerto Rico Constitution’s “Support Clause.” This clause was the reason the Puerto Rican Supreme Court had invalidated a similar program in 1994.
Today, the Court overturned that prior case. In doing so, the Court agreed with the families that the Free School Selection Program is constitutional because it “supports” needy families, not schools, and any benefit to private schools under the program is merely incidental.
“Puerto Rican families can finally have a say in their children’s education,” said Erica Smith, an attorney at IJ. “Puerto Rico now joins 29 other states and the District of Columbia, all of which allow families educational choice.”
The case marks the latest educational choice victory for IJ, which also represented Puerto Rico parents in the previous challenge to scholarships in 1994. IJ has litigated over 20 educational choice cases, including two at the U.S. Supreme Court. IJ is currently representing parents in similar cases in Montana and Florida.