Federal funds for teacher raises available since mid-December
By John McPhaul
The federal funds that the Puerto Rico government finally announced would be used to increase the base salary of teachers had been available since Dec. 16 of last year, but public officials on the island found that out just 48 hours before the press conference held Monday to announce the $1,000-a-month raise in teachers’ salaries.
According to a letter dated Dec. 16, 2021, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona let those in charge of the school districts know to use the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund to raise teachers’ salaries.
“The main reason educators quit is related to stress followed by insufficient pay,” Cardona wrote in his letter to those in charge of the school districts. Many school principals are raising their salaries and offering hiring and retention bonuses, in the process of achieving permanent salary increases, pay that helps educators get the compensation they need and stay in their profession. We urge you to continue working to achieve this increase in compensation.”
“Even though some districts have expressed concern about investing to increase teacher salaries with short-term federal funds, our children need that help now, and many districts have decided to use ESSER funds to immediately address those needs,” Cardona said in the letter.
As an example, he noted that West Contra Costa County in California used the funds to offer new teachers a $6,000 recruiting bonus. In Oklahoma, North Carolina and New Jersey they are offering financial incentives to new teachers.
“Now more than ever, improving the economic well being of teachers is critical to retaining our educators and staff,” he said.
After the announcement at Monday’s press conference, Cardona said in a written statement that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and island Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés learned of the availability of the funds 48 hours before.
“We have had close communication with Governor Pierluisi’s office and the local Department of Education in the last 48 hours and recommend the use of COVID relief funds to increase the salaries of educators in Puerto Rico,” Cardona stated in a reaction requested by CyberNews.
“Educators throughout Puerto Rico have faced various challenges and we must treat them with respect and dignity. This means giving them higher wages, so they don’t live from one fortnight to another. It also means giving them the high-quality professional development and supportive working conditions they need in the midst of the pandemic. Our educators have been there to support our children, we must be there for them.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Financial Oversight and Management Board, David Skeel, said Monday that the federal entity created under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act does not provide for supervision of federal funds, in this case, to increase the salary.
“The Board does not oversee the use of federal funds by the Government of Puerto Rico, which the Governor has now made available to additionally support teachers’ salaries,” Skeel said in a written statement late Monday.
“The Board has always supported increases in teachers’ salaries. Teachers are crucial to improving Puerto Rico’s educational system and supporting economic development,” he added. “Salaries increased in fiscal year 2019 by $1,500, in fiscal year 2020 by $500. The updated certified Fiscal Plan added an incremental increase to teachers’ salaries by 20% beginning with the new fiscal year 2023 on July 1, 2022, as much as fiscally possible under the Puerto Rico General Fund budget given the incremental investments made in other public service salaries, the Pension Reserve Trust, and policemen’s pensions.”