After public schools in Puerto Rico were ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017, the federal government ponied up $589,170,000 in disaster relief funds under the Aid to Restart School Operations (RESTART) program. The funds were awarded in April of this year, while many schools on the island remained without running water, textbooks, and electricity. Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education Julia Keleher told Politico that her agency plans to spend the money in advance of the coming school term. However, she said that there are “complications.”
“It’s not for lack of action. We’re erring on the side of not spending money on anything, but having a strategy and following procuring processes,” Keleher said. “It’s not like we don’t know what to use the money for.” Some of the money is being held to pay teachers and purchase school supplies. For example, $1.2 million is to be paid out to cover the purchase of textbooks and supplies which have been ordered but not yet billed.
Adding to its troubles, the island’s government has not found any local tech companies that are able to restart Puerto Rico’s devastated communication. A call for proposals has not determined any suitable tech vendor, despite the prospect of $300 million in a setaside.
In Puerto Rico, nearly 300 public schools have been closed, while plans for charter schools have been met with protests and legal action. Some children are between 20 to 45 minutes away from school, advocates complain, and both schools and teachers are uncertain of the number of students that will have to accomodate. Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have left the island to the mainland U.S., taking their children with them. It is not clear how many families will return to Puerto Rico, which continues to face the effects of the 2017 storms coupled with a slow bureaucracy.
Earlier this year, Puerto Rico’s education agency announced that 283 schools will be closed this year. The U.S. Department of Education announced then that it intends to spend $2.5 billion to resurrect the ruined public education system.