Puerto Rico Receives $4 Billion in Pandemic Funds for Education

By Nicholas Steinhauser

As most places across the United States return to normal, the island Puerto Rico continues to have difficulty dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Although about 68% of Puerto Ricans have been vaccinated, the country’s education system has deteriorated due to the restrictions brought by the pandemic. Unlike the continental United States, where many schools permitted full capacity by the end of May, Puerto Rico reopened many schools in March. Less than 100 public schools out of the island’s 850 actually allowed in-person classes. The schools that did open only allowed students to attend in-person classes two times a week, and most of these schools shut down in April after a spike in COVID-19 cases across Puerto Rico. While at home, students had to attend classes using virtual apps like Zoom and Google Meet. However, many families in Puerto Rico live in low-income houses with poor internet connection, preventing them from tuning in to classes. Only about 65.3% of Puerto Rican citizens have access to a wireline connection service, with the rest having unstable internet connections. These restrictions severely damaged the students’ abilities to learn. Statistics show that approximately 24,000 students in Puerto Rico failed their classes for the 2020-2021 school year, and about 13,000 of them earned an ‘F’ in all of their classes.

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On June 28th, the U.S. Department of Education announced that Puerto Rico would gain $4 billion in educational pandemic relief funds. This grant of money was distributed to help rebuild Puerto Rican school environments that were damaged due to earthquakes and to improve the quality of education that Puerto Rican students received (which declined during the pandemic). The funds make up three different components, the first of which being the $2 million offered by the American Rescue Plan. This plan, which was signed into law in March, was created to improve the public health and economy of the United States during the pandemic. With these new funds, the plan is extending its aid to Puerto Rico. $1.2 billion from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 is the second part of the Puerto Rican relief plan. These funds are intended to establish an effective summer learning program for Puerto Rican students through the Summer Academy. This summer enrichment program can be a great opportunity for school and community partners to catch up their students on educational topics that they failed to learn. The third component of funds is about $662 million in 2020 program grants, which can help Puerto Rican schools create financially stable educational programs. In March, the U.S. Department of Education also released $912 million in federal education funds that were not originally offered to Puerto Rico. This was due to the limitations implemented by the Trump administration. However, Joe Biden, the current U.S.  President, lifted these restrictions and released an additional $8 billion in Hurricane Maria recovery funds that Trump refused to give to Puerto Rico.

 

 

With the release of new pandemic funds, Puerto Ricans are hopeful that the education system will improve when the students go back to school in September. There is currently a seven-day average of one COVID-19 death and 45 new cases in Puerto Rico, and now the territory has been able to ease its pandemic protocols. As more public places are opening in Puerto Rico, it’s a possibility that most schools will officially reopen in September. With the newly enhanced Puerto Rican school systems, the territory is hoping to put the past behind it and give its students an enriching education once again.

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