Hearing: Schools appear far from ready to receive students

By The Star Staff

With barely a month left before the start of a new academic year, it appears that the island’s public schools are far from ready to receive students.

Unlike previous year, the Education Department will have access to $6.9 billion in federal funding from disaster recovery and COVID-19 related programs. Taken together with its $3 billion annual budget, some $9 billion are available for K-12 education in Puerto Rico to rebuild, recover, and improve education for the more than 250,000 students in the public school system.

Senate Education, Tourism and Culture Committee Chairwoman Ada García Montes was forced to give the Department of Education five days to provide all the information related to the delivery of electronic devices to students of the public education system.

“We are very sorry that Education, despite the fact that we have been waiting, does not have the exact number of students who need computers and those who have them,” she said.

The agency purchased 274,830 laptops and 56,200 tablets. However, other information shows that 231,726 laptops were given to students.

Regarding internet vouchers, Education representatives reported that “the initiative to promote internet vouchers was worked on with the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority and the Department of the Treasury,” and did not have additional information on the vouchers.

The most recent data indicates that some 144,026 certificates were awarded to students and about 18,190 to teachers were redeemed, they said.

Meanwhile, House Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah Soto Arroyo urged Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to do something about the shortage of teachers at the schools and the inadequate school facilities.

“The start of classes is approaching and at this time there are 4,240 teachers who have yet to be recruited, and 684 schools without repairs,” the Popular Democratic Party lawmaker said.

“However, the only thing that the Department of Education has done is to distribute blame, without presenting a plan of how they are going to deal with these problems.”