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Lawmakers Ask Betsy DeVos to Provide ‘Immediate’ Relief to Puerto Rico’s Schools

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 24, 2017 2 min read
Aliancy Arana, 13, passes by the flag of Puerto Rico at the read-aloud event at Maria Vasquez de Umpierre School in Bayamon.
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Members of Congress are asking Trump administration officials to provide several ‘immediate’ relief measures to help Puerto Rico’s schools and students impacted by Hurricane Maria.

In an Oct. 24 letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat on the House education committee, Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s at-large Republican representative in Congress, and 59 other House lawmakers requested “immediate financial assistance” to help schools in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island reopen. They also seek flexibility in using federal funds to repair schools damaged by Hurricane Maria, and to allow schools in both areas to provide three free meals a day to students.

The letter reads in part:

Schools play a central role in these devastated communities. In addition to providing education, public schools serve as the hub of a neighborhood/community, adding to the urgency of providing assistance, so that school districts can open and staff can return as quickly as possible will bring normalcy to the places that need it most. It will also enable them to fulfill their fundamental mission of providing a high-quality education and a safe, welcoming environment to affected students.

Earlier this month, the Andrew half of Politics K-12 and Education Week photographer Swikar Patel traveled to Puerto Rico to cover the impact of the storm on the island’s schools. The school system in Puerto Rico has struggled academically and has also recently faced serious financial problems. How Puerto Rico’s schools recover from Maria (as well as a previous storm, Irma) remains very much an open question. Schools in Florida and elsewhere on the U.S. mainland are also welcoming Puerto Ricans who have decided to leave the island.

The Education Week video below, shot in Puerto Rico on Oct. 10, documents the various challenges the island’s educational system will face in the coming weeks and months, as well as how schools are coping:

The lawmakers’ letter also asks for:

  • additional funding for students rendered homeless by the hurricane;
  • additional funding for schools on the U.S. mainland receiving students who have evacuated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands;
  • supplemental mental health services for students and educators impacted by the storm.

Last week, a spokeswoman for DeVos told us that the U.S. Department of Education was preparing to file a formal request for various forms of relief for Puerto Rico’s schools by Wednesday, a deadline for such proposals previously set by Mulvaney. An aid package approved by House lawmakers earlier this month sets aside $4.9 billion for Puerto Rico and other areas impacted by recent hurricanes that could be used in part to help rebuild schools.

Read the full letter from Scott, González-Colón, and the other members of Congress.

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