Top Democrat Asks GOP for Hearing in Congress on Puerto Rico's Schools
One year after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the top House Democrat for education policy is asking for Congress to shine a light on the island's public schools.
In a Thursday letter, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, said the panel should hold a hearing with the U.S. Department of Education on the status of schools in Puerto Rico, which are still grappling with the consequences of the storm on educators, students, and communities, as well as storm-damaged schools in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"With recovery far from over, members of the Committee and the American public should have the opportunity to hear directly about the federal government's ongoing efforts to address the educational needs of our fellow citizens," Scott wrote to Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the committee chairwoman. He indicated that this is not the first time he's asked for such a hearing.
Citing the impact of school closures, student trauma, and questions around the Puerto Rico Department of Education's handling of recovery funds, Scott said Congress should ask federal officials for a more complete picture.
A spokesman for Foxx did not immediately return a request for comment about Scott's letter. We'll update this post if we hear back.
There has been a tremendous amount of upheaval for education on the island. In addition to Secretary of Education Julia Keleher's decision to close hundreds of schools due to declining enrollment that was exacerbated by Maria, the introduction of charter schools and other changes to public education has been highly controversial on the island. Some believe the changes spearheaded by Keleher and others will help shore up and ultimately strengthen the island's schools for the long-term. But others say the fallout from so many school closures have damaged communities and will only accelerate the exodus from the island.
Earlier this year, senators railed against what they said were plans to privatize Puerto Rico's public schools. At a public forum on Capitol Hill in March, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said, "The proposal in Puerto Rico to transition to charter schools and the use of private school vouchers is one that mirrors what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The school privatization proposal in Puerto Rico would pull much-needed money away from public schools. ... The proposal at hand would completely disrupt and destabilize the existing public school system already struggling to rebuild."
So far, however, Congress has not held a public hearing specifically about the island's schools.
In many ways, Hurricane Maria underscored the deep-seated problems in Puerto Rico's schools. Enrollment had been declining for some time before the storm, test scores were sub-par, and even basic information about the system had not been easy to locate. Teachers were often tempted away from Puerto Rico by better-paying jobs in U.S mainland schools that often put a high value on those educators' bilingualism.
For a playlist of videos on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, click here. And below you can find some more vital statistics about where Puerto Rico's schools stand a year after Maria:
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