Everyone Needs to Know Why Puerto Rico's Closing 184 Public Schools

May 8th 2017

Puerto Rico is shuttering 184 public schools, officials announced on Friday.

The mass closure — which will be the largest in the island's history — is expected to affect 27,000 students and almost 3,000 teachers, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The U.S. territory has been grappling with an economic crisis that's sent hundreds of thousands fleeing to the mainland. Government officials stressed that the move would better serve students, reassigning them to schools with more resources, and that there wouldn't be any layoffs.

"I’m concerned about what this means for my family," Belinda Plaza, an elementary school teacher in Puerto Rico, told The Los Angeles Times. "I haven’t talked to the principal yet, but we are worried about whether we will have a job. We heard rumors before but this time it is really happening. We saw the list of schools that will close all over Facebook but no one spoke to me."

The closures would save Puerto Rico an estimated $7 million in education spending, which accounts for about 30 percent of the territory's $9 billion budget. The island is looking to cut costs wherever it can as it attempts to restructure $73 billion in debt through a "bankruptcy-like process," according to the Associated Press.

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About 30 percent of students in Puerto Rico are enrolled in specialized education programs.

Critics have voiced concerns about how the closures will play out with respect to transportation needs, special education programs, and the psychological impact on students.

"We heard rumors before but this time it is really happening. We saw the list of schools that will close all over Facebook but no one spoke to me."This isn't the first time teachers and families have faced uncertainty in the island's education system. From 2010 to 2015, the government closed a total of 150 schools — due in part to demands from a group of hedge funds that asked the island to pay back million of dollars in bonds.

Overspending on the part of Puerto Rico's government has been a source of criticism. Former economists at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that education spending increased by 39 percent from 2004 to 2013, even though the island's student population decreased by about 25 percent during that same time period, for example.

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Economic distress is the main factor driving this latest mass closure, Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher said at a press conference on Friday. Almost half a million residents have moved to the U.S. mainland as economic conditions worsened over the past ten years, according to the AP, and school enrollment has plummeted 42 percent over the past 30 years, draining schools of students and teachers.

"We have a fiscal crisis and few resources and we’ve spent 10 years handing out nearly $3 billion in a system that hardly has any books," Keleher said. "We cannot keep doing what we’re doing because we don’t have the resources."

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