Puerto Rico’s Economic Crisis Forces School Closings On The Island

Due to Puerto Rico’s growing financial crisis, now schools all over the island are being forced to shut down by the end of the school year, The New York Times reports.

In efforts to help overcome Puerto Rico’s estimated $123 billion in debt, approximately 178 schools are set to close. The decision came after Julia Keleher, a Washington based consultant was appointed as PR’s secretary of education in January. This came shortly after the island’s affairs were taken over by a governing board in New York.

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Keleher’s plan is based on enhancing the performances of students, and making local officials held accountable for what happens at the schools they lead—instead of saving money, which seems like the popular belief among locals. While most Boricuas are opposed to the school closings, Keleher is still cemented on her proposal. “We have to close schools,” Keleher said in an interview on Monday, according to The Times. “We are going to close schools.”

She also noted that schools made to house 800 students only have 300 enrolled. Not to mention, the district reportedly still has to pay the water and power bills for abandoned school buildings. “It has been a nearly impossible conversation,” she continued. “This is not about closing schools. This is about creating these kinds of opportunities with this savings in budget.”

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Still, Keleher isn’t going out with some resistance from local officials. The president of a teacher’s union on the island, Aida Diaz says the secretary’s plan can be inefficient for the children and their parents because logistically, it doesn’t accommodate them.

For instance, Diaz noticed that two schools whose communities were at odds are being joined together, which can then cause future conflicts. Another school, near a public housing project, is being merged with one that is 10 minutes away by highway. So, for those families who don’t have a car, this creates an issue.

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Emilio Nieves Torres leads another teacher’s union, and is concerned on how these changes will affect teachers, and with the quality of education.“Our biggest preoccupation is that all of this will be in the hands of a judge, named by the Supreme Court of the United States, and we don’t know if she’s going to take into account basic essentials of safety, health and education,” Nieves said. “Right now, that board has proposed cutting school two days a month. That’s a month of classes. That impacts education.”