Puerto Rico’s government has been granted access to $912 million in federal education funds previously held back by the Trump administration. The money had previously not been available to students in Puerto Rico’s public and private schools. The award comes less than two weeks after dozens of schools reopened for the first time since the pandemic began.
The funds were granted after Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on March 5 requesting immediate access to previously approved aid.
In 2019, the Trump administration imposed restrictions limiting Puerto Rico’s ability to access federal funds allocated to the island’s education system, citing a history of mismanagement within the Puerto Rico Department of Education. Now, under new leadership, fiscal aid will be fast-tracked to assist the nation’s schoolchildren.
This amount includes $390 million approved under the CARES Act as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as additional aid from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. The sum will also encompass all of the fiscal year 2019 department programme grant money (a total of $522 million) as well as money under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
The decision comes at an opportune time for Puerto Rico, as the island works to rebuild itself after a string of natural disasters over the past few years. “Our students have endured a lot, since the hurricanes from 2017 to earthquakes and the Covid-19 pandemic, and they deserve to go back to normal. These resources will provide the necessary funds to satisfy the needs of our students on the island,” Pierluisi said in a statement in Spanish. “On behalf of our children, teachers, and the parents of Puerto Rico, I thank Secretary Miguel Cardona for his commitment to supporting Puerto Rico and President Biden for quickly granting Puerto Rico access to these federal funds.”
The release follows the pursuit of a new, fruitful relationship with U.S. President Joe Biden that will seek to rectify funding delays. Michael Cardona confirmed: “The Department is committed to partnering with and supporting Puerto Rico in the efficient and effective use of department funds to serve Puerto Rico’s students, including to safely reopen schools and maximize in-person instructional time”.
According to a spokeswoman for Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s member of Congress, the U.S Department of Education will work alongside local officials to determine how to invest the money according to the academic, social, emotional and mental health needs of students in the U.S territory.