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US Education Secretary Visits Puerto Rico Amid Fiscal Crisis

By on March 28, 2016

SAN JUAN – Gov. Alejandro García Padilla welcomed Monday the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, whose visit, La Fortaleza says, responds to the commonwealth administration’s efforts to ensure a successful implementation of federal and state policy on the local educational system, despite current fiscal challenges. During his visit, Secretary John King accompanied the governor to the Arturo Morales Carrión Second Unit School after a roundtable at the governor’s mansion.

In a statement released Monday, García Padilla said, “One of the most important pillars of my administration has always been the education of our children and youth. Since the beginning of this four-year term, we have not rested in our struggle to ensure our students receive a quality of education that responds to the challenges of the present. We found a highly bureaucratic and inefficient system, with a tendency [for students to] drop out of school, which motivated us to initiate an educational transformation.

“We impacted the system from the pre-school education to university and reduced bureaucracy by 16%, redirecting resources toward the implementation of systems at the forefront of teaching, such as Montessori. We also promoted the free administration of the College Board, motivating students to continue their university studies and reaching historic rates in university admissions. However all these efforts, while having produced very positive results today are overshadowed by the consequences of the public debt inherited by generations, which threaten the essential services offered to our students.”

The governor said the extreme lack of liquidity has prevented carrying out all payments to providers of the educational system accordingly, resulting in an accumulation of debt related to maintenance, transportation and services offered to the special education population. García Padilla said that despite the hard work by the Puerto Rico Treasury Department to increase revenue through an aggressive oversight campaign and even though the island’s Education Department continues carrying out gradual disbursements, there are debts that put at risk the educational process as well as the health of public school students.


From left, Senate President Eduardo Bhatia, U.S. Education Secretary John King, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla and House Speaker Jaime Perelló

According to La Fortaleza, even when payments totaling more than $707 million have been made to suppliers to date, the Education Department still owes some $257 million to different suppliers. “Even though significant advances have been made for the benefit of special education students, evidenced in the score given by monitoring where the current administration managed to increase from 1.99, or ‘D,’ in 2012 to 2.83, or ‘B,’ last year, there is still space for improvement, which the administration is currently working toward,” Monday’s statement reads.

Of the $257 million owed, $42 million is for special education; more than $9 million for school transportation; and $6.66 million is maintenance related.

While the government struggles to provide essential services, the Zika virus situation worsens. Under the current economic situation, the government says it has not been able to implement all the necessary prevention measures to combat the proliferation of Zika, dengue and influenza in Puerto Rico, causing new contagion among the student population.

For example, there are 338 schools with septic and retention tanks with a total of 497 underground injection systems. To maintain them in optimal condition, a $90,000 investment is needed monthly. However, the Education Department still owes nearly $700,000 to suppliers in this category, $440,000 in weeding services and $120,000 in fumigation services.

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