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Puerto Rico Closing 179 Schools

The school shutdown announced Friday will be the largest mass closure of schools in the island’s history.The school shutdown announced Friday will be the largest mass closure of schools in the island’s history.

Puerto Rico is closing 179 public schools in a move expected to save more than $7 million amid a deep economic crisis that has sparked an exodus to the US mainland in the past decade, officials said late Friday.

More than 27,000 students will be moved elsewhere when their schools close at the end of May, said newly appointed Education Secretary Julia Keleher, ABC reported.

“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,” she said. “We cannot keep doing what we’re doing because we don’t have the resources.”

The news about the school closures raised concerns it could speed up the ongoing exodus from Puerto Rico. Nearly 450,000 people over the last decade have already left for Florida and other parts of the US mainland to flee the worsening economic crisis.

Officials initially had said 184 schools were closing but then announced at the last minute that five of those schools would remain open.

The school shutdown announced Friday will be the largest mass closure of schools in the island’s history, with officials saying it will in part lead to millions of dollars in savings a year for an education department that represent nearly 30% of Puerto Rico’s $9 billion budget. Officials shuttered 150 schools over the span of five years from 2010 to 2015.

Aida Diaz, president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Teachers, said Keleher’s plan makes sense, compared with previous closures under former administrations.

“Leaders thrive off controversy, but I cannot dispute the plan,” she said. “This process has been much more organized and well thought-out and incredibly backed up with data and information.”

She said many of the schools closing have few students and crumbling infrastructure as well as a lack of air conditioning in an island where summers are brutal.

“We barely get any government money,” she said, her eyes welling with tears. “Sometimes the children have to come into my office to ask for toilet paper. I bring it from my house.”

Overall, Puerto Rico has $73 billion in public debt accumulated in part by previous administrations borrowing money to cover budget deficits. By comparison, the US city of Detroit had less than $20 billion in debts when it filed for bankruptcy in 2013, which was the biggest US municipal bankruptcy ever.

 

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