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Senators Push for Hearings on the State of Schools in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 02, 2018 2 min read

Nine lawmakers on the Senate education committee are asking the panel’s chairman to hold hearings on the state of schools in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

In a Dec. 21 letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the senators say such proceedings would help provide “a detailed understanding of the health and education challenges facing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as an understanding of how departments under the committee’s purview have provided relief, and how they can improve relief efforts.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Cassidy is a Republican, Sanders is an independent, and the others are Democrats.

Here’s a portion of the letter focusing specifically on schools:

The huricanes also devastated the territories’ education systems. Students in the U.S.V.I. and Puerto Rico missed weeks of school as a result of the hurricanes.Though some of Puerto Rico’s 1,113 public schools have re-opened, the island’s Secretary of Education estimates that up to 20% will ‘have to be permanently shuttered.’ Of the schools that have re-opened, some are still filled with debris and have no running water or electricity. School districts throughout the U.S. mainland—including in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts—have seen an influx of Puerto Rican students, placing additional strain on already-limited public education budgets.

In October, we reported from Puerto Rico on the serious challenges facing the U.S. territory’s parents, educators, and schools. Last month, Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said the vast majority of the island’s schools had reopened, but that many had done so despite their poor condition, and after a decline in student enrollment. Keleher told us at the time that nine out of 10 Puerto Rican public schools had reopened.

We reached out to a spokesperson for Alexander to see if he had any plans for such hearings, and we’ll update this post if we’ll hear back.

Read the full letter below:

Photo: Juanita Negrón Reyes, principal of the Bernardo Gonzalez Colon School in Utuado, Puerto Rico, works on prepping food at her school in October after Hurricane Maria. (Swikar Patel/Education Week)

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