Society

Puerto Rico To Close 179 Public Schools Amid Crisis

| by Kathryn Schroeder

Following its bankruptcy-like filing, Puerto Rico announced it will close 179 public schools to save money.

With $74 billion debt and $49 billion in pension liabilities, Puerto Rico filed in court for the equivalent of bankruptcy protection on May 3, USA Today reported. The court filing stated that the U.S. territory is "unable to provide its citizens effective services."

Since 2007, Puerto Rico has lost 20 percent of its jobs and 10 percent of its population. As a result, taxes were raised, the government borrowed money to pay its bills, and promised pensions it could not afford, leading to an economic crisis.

"The result is that Puerto Rico can no longer fully pay its debt and pay for government services," the oversight board handling the case said in the court filing. "Nor can Puerto Rico refinance its debt -- it no longer has access to the capital markets. In short, Puerto Rico’s crisis has reached a breaking point."

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In response to the economic crisis, the territory has decided to close 179 public schools, which will save it more than $7 million, The Associated Press reports.

The 27,000 students that will lose their current schools at the end of May will be moved to other schools, newly appointed Education Secretary Julia Keleher said.

"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."

Nearly 450,000 people have left Puerto Rico in the last decade, most of them moving to the U.S. mainland, because of the worsening economy. By closing down schools, more may follow suit.

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Aida Diaz, president of Puerto Rico's Association of Teachers, believes Keleher's school closure plan makes sense.

"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."

Diaz added that many of the schools that will close have few students, crumbling infrastructure and lack air conditioning in a climate with brutally hot summers.

The mother of an 8-year-old who attends a school that will close in the capital city of San Juan is not happy about the situation. Ana Sanchez referred to it as a disaster and said that it is causing her psychological problems.

There are currently 1,292 public schools in Puerto Rico, serving 365,000 students. Over the past 30 years, school enrollment has dropped 42 percent, and it is estimated that an additional drop of 22 percent will occur in upcoming years.

The bankruptcy-like process Puerto Rico is now undergoing is expected to be resolved in four years, according to government officials.

Sources: AP via ABC News, USA Today / Photo credit: Brass Tacks UK/Flickr

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