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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House members: Planned transfer of acquisitions office may threaten federal education funding

House Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah Soto Arroyo

By The Star Staff

House Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah Soto Arroyo and Rep. Sol Higgins Cuadrado are urging Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to take action in the face of the threat of an apparent loss of federal funds allocated for students.

The call from the legislators came as a result of a letter sent by the U.S. Department of Education to island Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés warning of the existing danger of transferring the Central Office of Acquisitions (OCA by its Spanish initials) from the commonwealth Education Department (DE) to the General Services Administration (ASG). Based on federal Education Department criteria, the transfer would put at risk funds directed to the DE from the U.S. Department of Education.

“We are dismayed that, despite the fact that there have recently been questions about the way in which ASG carries out certain transactions, the governor insists on giving the state Department of Education until June 30 to make the transfer, going against the recommendations of the federal government,” Soto Arroyo said. “So the question we have to ask is: Why so much insistence on transferring those responsibilities to the General Services Administration, even with the warning of a possible loss of federal funds?”

Soto Arroyo referred to some of the concerns highlighted in the letter by the federal Department of Education regarding transferring the OCA from the DE to the ASG.

“The concerns set forth in that letter are more than valid, and they are quite emphatic in highlighting the risk of funds being lost,” she stressed. “Our exhortation to the governor is to explain his insistence, and if he is going to assume responsibility in the event that this happens.”

Meanwhile, Higgins urged Pierluisi to put the students of Puerto Rico above all consideration, and she quoted a line in the letter from Phillip R. Juengst, the deputy assistant secretary, Office of Grants, Acquisitions, and Risk Management, of the U.S. Department of Education. “According to the information presented, the federal Department of Education believes that the transfer of the OCA to the ASG would not be the best for Puerto Rico or the student population of the Department of Education.”

“They could not have been clearer in that letter, to which we had access,” Higgins Cuadrado said. “For that reason, Pierlusi should give up on that idea, since, in the end, it will be our students who will pay the consequences.”

Higgins said those who would be most affected by the possible cuts and interruption of services would be the children and young people in the districts outside the San Juan metropolitan area.

“Perhaps for the governor and the secretary of Education putting those federal funds at risk is not so alarming, but for students who come from low-income families, especially outside the metropolitan area, the fact that services are affected could be chaotic,” Higgins Cuadrado said.

Soto Arroyo announced that the Education Committee will be summoning ASG Administrator Karla Mercado Rivera and Ramos Parés to a hearing on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in order to clarify information related to the transfer. Likewise, they said they also hope that the Education chief can clarify questions that have emerged publicly regarding the hiring of consultant Alvaro Pilar.

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