Education

This District Is So Broke, It’s Closing Almost 200 Schools

by Liz Dwyer

May 11, 2017

Move over, Chicago—there’s a new holder of the dubious record for the largest mass school closure in United States history. Ok, ok, since Puerto Rico’s statehood efforts failed and it’s still only a U.S. territory, technically Chicago’s shuttering of nearly 50 campuses at once in 2013 is still the biggest. But the decision to close 179 schools in Puerto Rico—a move that will displace about 27,000 student—has its roots in the same problems that contributed to Chicago’s decision: strapped budgets and underenrollment.

We cannot keep doing what we're doing because we don't have the resources

"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," Julia Keleher, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant who was appointed Puerto Rico’s secretary of education in February told the Associated Press on Friday. "We cannot keep doing what we're doing because we don't have the resources."

The island nation, which is seeking bankruptcy relief in U.S. federal court, is roughly $123 billion in debt. With few jobs available, nearly 450,000 people have moved to the U.S. mainland within the past decade, and they’re taking their children with them. As a result, public school enrollment in Puerto Rico has dropped 30 percent since 2010.

Similar to the crisis in Chicago (and Detroit and New Orleans), Puerto Rico plans to relocate students at schools with low enrollment to other campuses. In an interview on Monday, Keleher said there are schools that have space for 800 students, but there are only 300 kids enrolled, reported The New York Times. In addition, the department of education has been paying for utilities at schools that have been abandoned.

Some parents are angry about Keleher’s decision. "This is a disaster," Ana Sanchez, a mom in San Juan told the AP. Sanchez said the school closures are causing her 8-year-old daughter "psychological problems."

But unlike Chicago’s teachers union, which vigorously fought school closures, union reps in Puerto Rico seem to be on board. “There is no sense in getting mad: Schools will have to close,” Aida Díaz, the head of a teachers union told the Times. “There are schools that really are so obsolete, with good ones next to it with empty classrooms.” It’s expected that the school closures will save about $7 million dollars.

Image via Flickr user Caffeinatrix 

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