Disaster Funding for Puerto Rico Schools Still Unspent

Puerto Rico’s schools were devastated by Hurricane Maria, and they received $589,170,000 in disaster relief funds under the immediate Aid to Restart School Operations (RESTART) program.

The funds were awarded in April, toward the end of a school year when many schools managed without electricity, running water, and textbooks.According to Politico, Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher said that they have plans for spending the money in preparation for the upcoming academic year, but that “complications” have arisen.

“It’s not for lack of action. We’re erring on the side of not spending money on anything, but having a strategy and following procuring processes,” Keleher said. “It’s not like we don’t know what to use the money for.”

Some funds have been set aside for supplies and teacher pay. $1.2 million will cover the cost of textbooks and supplies which have been ordered but not yet billed.

Puerto Rico is having trouble finding local tech companies with the capacity to solve the communications issues caused by the hurricanes. $300 million has been set aside to restore bandwidth and replace computers, but a call for proposals has not yet found a suitable vendor for the project.

Education has been a hot topic in Puerto Rico over the past year. Nearly 300 public schools have been closed and charter school plans have sparked lawsuits and protests. Many kids are facing 20 to 45 minutes of transport time to their new schools. Hundreds of teachers are uncertain about their assignments, as schools figure out how many students they’ll have.

On the other hand, a new online system for teacher assignments should simplify the process once attendance figures are settled. Many school districts, in states as well as in territories, have a spell of uncertainty at the beginning of a school year as students who didn’t register show up… and students who did register fail to show up. The evacuation of many families from Puerto Rico added to the uncertainty, and it is not yet certain how many families will return to the Island for the new school year.

School administrators are currently using FEMA trailers for classrooms and storage. They plan to request funds for permanent buildings once they have a clearer idea of student populations.

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